There is an official date for the continuation of the 2019-2020 NBA season but it feels almost like the start of a new season than a simple sprint to the campaign’s finish line to determine a winner for the league. Several hurdles have been cleared- coaches health concerns have been addressed- and several others need to be cleared before play gets underway in the isolated Disney World facility.
Speaking of hurdles that need to be cleared before games get underway, one player who is bound to not feature in the games is proving to be a major hurdle. Worsening the situation has been his ability to convince others to join him; if you don’t know who this person is by now, well, his name is Kyrie Irving and he plays for Brooklyn Nets. As one of the best players in the league and by extension the world, Kyrie has displayed mercurial skills on the court.
His otherworldly court traits are reflective in his alien ways of seeing the world; case in point, his belief that the earth is flat. His words for NBA players to boycott the season and force a cancellation as a means to continue to ramp up pressure on leaders to listen to the cries of the Black Lives Matter Movement have convinced fellow players like Dwight Howard and Avery Bradley to join his course.
Kyrie posits playing out the rest of the season is a distraction to the movement and would draw attention from it. With heavyweights like LeBron James, Players Union President Chris Paul, Kawhi Leonard, reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo in favour of continuing the league, Uncle Drew stands little chance to win this one on one battle. Like Kyrie, the NBA world has largely viewed Houston Rockets star man James Harden in a weird way.
This is a guy who scores for fun but is the ultimate solo act in a team sport that has limitations to what an individual can do even. Recently, Rockets locked arms with its superstar in the “weird” column by deploying a small lineup that puts Golden State Warriors version in the closet in terms of the amount of minutes the “small unit” plays during games. While Golden State Warriors had bigs like Andrew Bogut, Marreese Speights, David Lee and Kevon Looney to keep undersized Center and Power Forward Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes fresh down the stretch, Rockets have done the opposite.
They traded Clint Capela and consigned seven foot pair Tyson Chandler and Isaiah Hartenstein to the bench; their minutes have been allotted to PJ Tucker and Robert Covington who are 6 foot 7 and 6 foot 5 respectively. The aggressive system is yet to be tested in the playoffs so its title winning feasibility is up in the air. However, the circumstances caused by the corona virus gives Rockets its best chance to clinch a long awaited title after disappointing in recent seasons despite being in excellent positions to win it all.
For starters, James Harden has experienced difficult times in the postseason and this is often linked to fatigue as he plays high minutes in the regular season. His ball dominant style doesn’t help either as the former Oklahoma City Thunder Guard is often double teamed and expends a lot of energy beating the trap with skill or flat out bullying his way through. By the time the league resumes on July 31, Harden wouldn’t have played against NBA level of competition for over two months.
Self isolation protocols also means Harden wouldn’t have had the opportunity to play against his peers privately to subject him to burn out practices. Rockets fans should feel good about Harden in the playoffs as a recent widely circulated picture of Harden clearly shows he has lost significant weight; less weight means light fleetly feet to give defenders hell.
Due to the massive shift in playing style midway through the season, Rockets made trades to get players who fit the system. Chemistry issues have popped up during games and would have been a problem had corona not struck but it did and that has given Rockets more time to fine tune its offense heavy style.
Fortunately, Western Conference contenders LA Lakers (assembled almost an entirely different team from last season’s roster), LA Clippers (added Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Marcus Morris) and Dallas Mavericks (Kristaps Porzingis has been in and out of the lineup and Dwight Powell is out injured) face similar problems. Denver Nuggets’ continuity is at optimum level but Rockets can take care of them without depending much on chemistry.
The shortened run up to the playoffs gives Houston a leg up in title odds since Rockets rely heavily on offense and play at a decent clip on defense. On the other hand, the limited time period prevents balanced or defense-first teams like Utah Jazz from clicking into gear to really make a difference on that end.
Offensive schemes generally take little time to sink in unlike defensive schemes where timing and coordination paramount. It is very possible, this season’s NBA Champion would be a high scoring team with little defense and that is exactly what Houston Rockets is.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah
@YawMintYM on Twitter