Ideal First-Round Houston Rockets Playoff Match-Up

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Chris Paul
CHICAGO, USA - JANUARY 9: Kris Dunn (32) of Chicago Bulls in action against Chris Paul (3) of Houston Rockets during the NBA game between Chicago Bulls and Houston rockets, on January 9, 2018 in Chicago, United States. (Photo by Bilgin S. Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
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This NBA season has been surprisingly competitive and full of storylines. After the complete dominance that the Golden State Warriors showed last season, many believed that this season would follow a similar path.

The Warriors’ success caused a multitude of teams to make moves during the off-season. One of those teams looking to take the next step is the Houston Rockets. The Rockets have always been a fantastic offensive team. James Harden‘s offensive repertoire is unmatched in the league. That skill, paired with Mike D’Antoni‘s brilliant offensive mind, has always allowed the Rockets to score with the best of them.

What’s the Ideal First-Round Houston Rockets Playoff Match-Up?

In previous years, however, Houston’s downfall lay on the defensive end. The Rockets’ recipe for success was to try to outscore the opponent. That tactic can work in the regular season but will not get you far in the playoffs. The game slows down in the post-season and only teams that can play both ends of the floor can be successful.

Roster Improvements

The Rockets were well aware of this issue and began to address it during the off-season. Their biggest signing was point guard Chris Paul, who can take some pressure and playmaking duties off of Harden. Key pickups like P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute were also brought in to aid the team’s defense.

These additions also brought a sense of toughness and grit to the Rockets. All of those new players can also hit three-pointers, which is a key component in the Rockets’ offensive scheme.

The Results

These changes have resulted in the Rockets having the best record in the NBA this season. Harden is hungry to win the MVP and playing with such ease and grace. Everyone remembers Harden’s meltdown that occurred last year against the San Antonio Spurs and Harden would surely like to right his wrongs.

The Western Conference playoff picture is as competitive as ever. The Rockets and Warriors seem to have secured the top two spots, but everyone else is fighting for playoff berths and seeding.

Best Match-up for the Houston Rockets

Because the West is so stacked, it is possible that the Rockets end up facing a very talented team in the first round like the Oklahoma City Thunder or the Portland Trail Blazers.

Those two teams, however, are not likely to slip to the eighth seed, but a team that the Rockets would love to play in the first round is the New Orleans Pelicans. The Pelicans got the short end of the stick when DeMarcus Cousins was sidelined for the rest of the season. Cousins was an intricate part of the Pelicans’ success.

New Orleans has surprisingly still played well since Cousins’ injury because of a herculean effort from its best player, Anthony Davis. Davis has put the team on his back while several perimeter players have stepped up and hit outside shots.

When it comes to the playoffs, however, it’ll be tough to trust some of the role players on the Pelicans. Davis may be superhuman, but it will take more than one star to rattle the Rockets.

Houston’s deadly three-point shooting can also neutralize Davis’ strengths to some degree. The driving abilities of Harden and Paul will create multiple wide open shots for snipers behind the arc.

Other Potential Opponents

The Utah Jazz and Minnesota Timberwolves are the current seventh and eighth seeds in the West, meaning that either could end up facing the Rockets in round one.

The Jazz have been very surprising with rookie sensation Donovan Mitchell leading the way. Their defensive energy and toughness have also given many teams trouble. However, Houston swept the season series against the Jazz, dominating the four games with an average margin of victory of 17.5 points. Utah can’t quite handle the Rockets’ speed and shooting.

The Timberwolves have been up and down this season due to some injuries. Jimmy Butler has been out lately but if he can come back healthy, they are a team that nobody would want to see – and that includes the Rockets

With the talent in the Western Conference, any first round match-up will be tough for the Rockets. With that said, the Pelicans would be the best match-up for Houston to get the post-season started. It will be interesting to see how the playoff picture shakes up and whether or not the Rockets can take the next step towards being a championship team.

 

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