Editor’s Note: Jeff is a sports and whiskey enthusiast with the humor of an adolescent boy. Follow him on Instagram @jspringmeier for stereotypical millennial photos.
By JEFF SPRINGMEIER
You heard it right. The Rockets have a chance to win the championship. While Lebron and Steph sit out like prudent NBA stars, Harden has silenced critics by playing in meaningless games to prove that he is worthy of the MVP. Maybe Harden is on to something. Let his offense speak for itself during the regular season, and use the extra energy saved from mediocre, lackadaisical defense in the playoffs. But in all honestly, the Rockets can make a serious run this year and dare I say it, win the championship (Vegas has them at 30-1 right now). I’ll leave the hot takes to the unprofessionals, but I would like to make a fictional, yet plausible argument, round by round, on why the Rockets could hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
First Round: Oklahoma City Thunder
Let’s all settle an argument before we get started; Westbrook is the MVP. He is averaging a triple-double, set the triple-double record, and grabbed the sixth seed with a supporting cast of Ricky Davis, Brian Scalabrine, Rebecca Lobo, and Air Bud. Harden, on the other hand, will dominate this matchup. Rockets are 3-1 against the Thunder this year, even though three of the games were decided by three points or less. On top of that, Harden has had at least 12 assists in all four games against the Thunder this year. My prediction is that Rockets take the first two at home, then steal the fourth game in OKC, taking the series in five. Also, don’t be surprised if Williams or Gordon outscore Harden more than one game this series.
Western Conference Semifinals: San Antonio Spurs
I understand; this is where most “experts” have the Rockets going out this year, but let’s look at the numbers. Despite a 1-3 record against the I-10 rivals, three of the four games were decided by two points in the last minutes. The key to this series is the Rocket’s Achilles’ heel; defense. No sh*t right. I’m not talking about just locking down Leonard, as he is going to go off no matter what. The key is to be physical with the supporting cast of AARP members. Aldridge will get his due, but Ginobli, Parker, and Gasol are the sore back bone of this team. If the Rockets can make it a two-man game between Leonard and Gasol, there is a chance they can snag a win on the road and take this series in seven.
Western Conference Finals: Golden State Warriors
Did you really think it was going to be anyone else besides the Warriors? The only chance of any other team in the finals is if the Clippers front court dominated and Maurice Speights’ mole somehow threw off the Warrior’s three-ball with its gravitational pull. But there is a recipe to beat the Warriors. First things first, Harden needs to go off. I think this is an obvious answer. Second, the Rockets need to average 40% from three. Expect Anderson to play a major role in every game. I would even expect the O/U to hover between 235 and 240. Lastly, the Rockets need to improve their offensive rebounding. Even though Houston is number nine in the league on the offensive boards, Golden State is third in defensive rebounding. Three extra offensive rebounds per game in this series could give the Rockets the edge they need to finally defeat the Warriors. I expect the Rockets to take it in seven. Hypothetical? Yes! Delusional? You betcha! Realistic? Hey, If OJ can get away with murder, why can’t Houston drown the Splash Bros?
NBA Finals: The Cleveland Cavaliers
Sh*t. My theoretical playoff run never meant to go this far. But there is no turning back now. Rockets split the series with Cleveland this year, and looked damn good doing it. The only issue is Lebron overcompensates for his supporting cast and his hairline every year in the playoffs. The dude is an outright monster. While Harden and the Rocket’s back court would need to dig deep and push through the final stretch; sadly, the true heroes of this championship series for Houston will be (drumroll)… Capella and Nene. “You heard it here first!” (Stereotypical ESPN promo). That’s right everyone, this amateur writer and fair-weather fan predicted it. The Rocket’s big men will make the final difference in their imaginary 2017 NBA Championship! Houston takes it in seven. I can only imagine the corny headlines. “Rockets dethrone the King,” “Clutch City is Back,” “Cavs underutilize key instruments, sing ‘Ah Capella’”. Houston wins! You’re welcome.
Does anybody truly believe this Rocket’s fan fiction? Probably not. But a grown man with nothing better to do can dream, can’t he? In all seriousness, when I jump back to reality, Rockets are a big man away from a serious run. I’m going to stay optimistic that Houston will make a run at the championship within the next few years. In the meantime, I’ll keep dreaming of “The Beard” raising the Larry O’Brien for H-town.