Article written by Michael Knight (@TheKnight97)
The Houston Rockets come into Friday night already locked into their first-round matchup. They will begin their series against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday night at 5:30 p.m. CT despite the outcomes of any remaining NBA games on the last day of the regular season.
The Rockets will mostly be using this as a tune-up game and the main players will likely not play their usual number of minutes. James Harden will probably ignore all of that and still play a ton, as he put up 35 minutes in the practically meaningless game against the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday.
Please avoid injury
The main desire from this game is to get through it in one piece. The Rockets have been battling injuries throughout the bubble and took another hit this week when they learned that Russell Westbrook likely will not be ready for the start of the playoffs. P.J. Tucker is dealing with a hand injury that he has been fighting all season long. Danuel House has a toe issue that has kept him out of the last two contests. Eric Gordon has missed all of the games that count until the last one, and is still shaking off some rust.
Please keep the intensity down and just use this game to get some rhythm back. That especially goes for Eric Gordon, who will need to be a secondary option for the Rockets with Russell Westbrook out. James Harden will be doubled teamed most of this playoff series. If Gordon can’t step up and do something about it, Houston might not have time to recover when Russ is back.
The 76ers are also in some injury trouble. Their first-round series has also been confirmed, another one against the Boston Celtics. However, they will be without All-Star point guard/power forward Ben Simmons, who will miss the remainder of the season with a knee injury. They still have the potential to be a tough out in the postseason, but their ceiling got quite a bit lower. Hopefully, they can avoid injury in tonight’s game.
Find some shooting
Another thing the Rockets should focus on in this game is finding their shooting touch. A few Rockets, mostly Robert Covington, P.J. Tucker and Eric Gordon, need to focus on getting back to being good shooters. They must be on their game in the postseason if they want a chance at a ring.
Eric Gordon is someone who has struggled all year from deep but can catch fire in a hurry. Now would be a great time to do so! He shot just 1/9 from three on Wednesday but has another chance tonight to find his form.
Robert Covington and P.J. Tucker play incredible defense but have been way off from distance in Orlando. Both are under 30% in the seven games, with Covington being at a measly 23.1%. That’s bound to correct itself eventually, and his 3/8 performance against Indiana showed some signs of improvement. He needs to continue that in the limited minutes he’ll have against the Sixers.
The game will be tonight at 8:00 p.m. CT on both AT&T SportsNet SW and ESPN. It is the last scheduled game of the NBA regular season. All of the postseason matchups have been decided but the one due to the play-in game(s) that will happen on Saturday/Sunday.
A Thunder loss tonight to the Clippers would put the Rockets in the No. 4 seed and them in the No. 5 seed, despite the results of Rockets-76ers. This is merely for bragging rights as there is no true home court advantage in the bubble. If the Thunder finish above the Rockets, I’m sure it will give the national media a few fun articles to write involving the Chris Paul/Westbrook swap.
I cannot reiterate enough how important health is in this game. Have the starters play just 20 minutes or less, please. We’ll see what Mike D’Antoni goes with tonight!
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