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How Top Seeds Have Fared In NBA Playoffs

A look back at how the top NBA seeds have fared in the playoffs over the last decade.

John Zitzler

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Each year, we see teams dominate during the regular season. This season has been no different. The Warriors have thrived under first-year coach Steve Kerr and been the best team in the NBA. In the East, the Hawks have vaulted themselves to the top of the conference by playing tough defense and relying on team-first concepts on the offensive end. While Cleveland has come on strong as the season has progressed, the Hawks have a firm grip on the top seed in the East. Having the number one seed is certainly beneficial, but it’s no guarantee of a deep playoff run. With that in mind, let’s take a look at how the top seeds have fared over the last 10 years.

2014

Eastern Conference: Indiana Pacers

Despite landing the top seed in the East last season, the Pacers were pushed to seven games in their first round series with the Hawks. They narrowly advanced and faced the Wizards in round two. The Wizards took Game One of that series, but the Pacers bounced back winning the next three before closing the series in Game Six. Their playoff run would come to an end in the conference semi-finals against the HEAT. Indiana struggled to score as they were held under 95 points in all but one game during the series. Miami advanced in six games to face the Spurs in the Finals.

Western Conference: San Antonio Spurs

Like the Pacers, the Spurs were tested early on, needing seven games to overcome their in-state rival Dallas Mavericks in round one. In round two, they faced the Portland Trail Blazers, who were unable to put up much of a fight. The Spurs made quick work of the Blazers, winning their second round series in five games. They would meet Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the Thunder in the conference semi-finals. The Spurs knocked off the Thunder in six games, even with Durant and Westbrook both averaging over 25 points per game during the series. This meant we would see a Finals rematch; the Spurs would get another shot at the HEAT. They set tone in Game One, winning 110-95 and didn’t look back from there. The Spurs were dominant throughout the Finals and needed just five games to beat the HEAT.

2013

Eastern Conference: Miami HEAT

The HEAT cruised through round one, sweeping the Bucks. They faced the Bulls in round two, a team that figured to be a more challenging opposition. However, without Derrick Rose, the Bulls were no match, falling to the HEAT in five games. The HEAT’s first real test came in round three against the Pacers. The Pacers battled the HEAT to seven games but were unable to finish the job, losing Game Seven, 99-76. They moved onto the Finals, matching up with the Spurs. The Spurs looked to be in control of the series right up until the last minute of regulation in Game Six. The HEAT were able overcome a five-point deficit with less than 30 seconds left in the fourth, keyed by a Ray Allen corner three, to send the game to overtime. The HEAT went on to win that game 103-100 before winning Game Seven, and their second title in two years.

Western Conference: Oklahoma City Thunder

In the West, the Thunder had a more difficult path to the Finals. In round one, they took care of business against former teammate James Harden and the Rockets, winning that series 4-2. Unfortunately, the Thunder lost star point guard Russell Westbrook to a knee injury in round one, which was a major blow to their championship hopes. Playing without Westbrook proved to be too much to overcome, as the Thunder fell to the Grizzlies in five games in round two.

2012

Eastern Conference: Chicago Bulls

The Bulls landed the one seed in the East during the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season after going 50-16. They faced the Philadelphia 76ers in round one. Sadly, with the Bulls leading late in Game One, Derrick Rose landed awkwardly, tearing his ACL. With Rose out, the Sixers were able to pull-off the rare eight-seed-over-one-seed upset, sending the Bulls home early.

Western Conference: San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs once again found themselves as the top seed in the West in 2012. For the first two rounds, they looked Finals’ bound. The Spurs swept the Jazz in the round one before doing the same to the Clippers in round two. Next they faced the Thunder in the conference finals. The trio of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden were able to knock off the veteran Spurs in six games as the Thunder advanced to the Finals. The Thunder would go on to lose to the HEAT.

2011

Eastern Conference: Chicago Bulls

Led by MVP point guard Derrick Rose, the Bulls appeared have a real shot at making a title run. In round one, they needed just five games to oust the Pacers. The Bulls would move on to face the fifth-seeded Hawks. Rose was spectacular, averaging 29.8 points and 9.8 assists, as the Bulls cruised past the Hawks in round two – winning the series 4-2. In the conference finals, the Bulls met the HEAT and their infamous “Big Three.” The Bulls got off to a good start, winning Game One, however the talented HEAT were too much to handle as they won the next four games and advanced to the Finals. Behind the play of Dirk Nowitzki, the Mavericks defeated the HEAT 4-2 in the Finals.

Western Conference: San Antonio Spurs

To no one’s surprise, the Spurs were atop the Western Conference heading into the playoffs. They matched-up with the physical Grizzlies in round one. Memphis took Game One, 101-98, in San Antonio, but the Spurs bounced back winning the next two. The Grizzlies didn’t back down, winning three straight and taking the series, 4-2. The early exit had many questioning if the Spurs were getting too old to compete for a title. Those doubters would be silenced soon enough.

2010

Eastern Conference: Cleveland Cavaliers

In what would turn out to be LeBron James’ last year in Cleveland before temporarily taking his talents South Beach, the Cavs looked poised to make a title run. In round one they had little trouble with the Bulls, winning that series 4-1. In round two, they met up with a hungry Celtics team. Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen were on a mission to win another NBA title. The Celtics’ three veteran stars were able to lead the team over the Cavs, winning the series in six games. The Celtics would go on to face the Lakers in the Finals.

Western Conference: Los Angeles Lakers

An experienced Lakers group faced off against the up and coming Thunder in round one. While the Thunder certainly had talent with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Jeff Green and Serge Ibaka, they were still very young. They put up a good fight, but the Lakers ultimately prevailed winning their first round series, 4-2. The Lakers were dominate in their round two match-up with the Jazz, sweeping Utah, 4-0. In the conference semi-finals, the Lakers faced Steve Nash, Amar’e Stoudemire and the Suns. In what was a highly competitive series, the Lakers moved on, winning the series in six games. The Finals renewed one of the oldest rivalries in the NBA as the Lakers took on the Celtics. In what was a terrific seven-game series, the Lakers won in seven games.

2009

Eastern Conference: Cleveland Cavaliers

In 2008-09, LeBron James led the Cavaliers to a 66-16 record, looking like a near lock to win the Eastern Conference. They made quick work of the Pistons in round one and the Hawks in round two, sweeping both series. In the conference finals, the Cavs faced off with Dwight Howard and the Magic. Although James put up historical numbers, averaging 38.5 points, 8.3 rebounds and 8 assists, the Cavs fell short and lost the series, 4-2.

Western Conference: Los Angeles Lakers

Again, the Lakers were the cream of the crop in the West. They had no trouble in their first round series with the Jazz, advancing in five games. Their round two match-up with the Rockets was not nearly as easy. It took the Lakers seven games, but Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol were able to beat the Rockets. Following their series with Houston, the Lakers faced the Nuggets in the conference semi-finals. The Lakers took care of business, winning that series in six games. The Magic posed few problems for the Lakers in the Finals, as they coasted to a 4-1 series victory.

2008

Eastern Conference: Boston Celtics

After struggling during the 2006-07 season, the Celtics made major changes bringing Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to play alongside, most notably, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo. These moves paid immediate dividends. The Celtics won 66 games and landed the top seed in the East. While the Celtics looked great in the regular season, they were challenged in the playoffs. They needed seven games to advance past the Hawks in round one and again needed seven games in round two before defeating the Cavaliers. They knocked off the Pistons in the conference finals, 4-2, before facing the Lakers in the NBA finals. Allen, Pierce and Garnet were finally able to get that ring they had been chasing for so long, as the Celtics beat the Lakers 4-2 to take home the title.

Western Conference: Los Angeles Lakers

In 2008, Phil Jackson had the Lakers ready for another deep playoff run. They routed Nuggets in round one, sweeping the series 4-0. They faced slightly more resistance in round two against the Jazz but went on to win that series 4-2. Next, the Lakers met up with the three-seed Spurs. Again, the Lakers handled them relatively easily, needing only five games to win the series. In the Finals, the Lakers would meet a highly motivated Celtics team. The Lakers lost the first two games, falling behind in the series 0-2, and were never able to rebound eventually losing to the Celtics in six games.

2007

Eastern Conference: Detroit Pistons

The Pistons dominated the Magic in round one, sweeping the series. In round two, they would take on the Bulls, who were confident as well after sweeping the HEAT. The Pistons stingy defense held the Bulls to 87.5 points per game during the series, and they went on to win 4-2. However, they were unable to slow down a young LeBron James, falling to the Cavaliers in the conference finals in six games.

Western Conference: Dallas Mavericks

Dallas faced one of the more difficult eight seed match-ups in recent memory, going up against the high powered Golden State Warriors. The Mavericks were unable to slow the Warriors’ up-tempo attack and were stunned in round one, losing the series 4-2. The Spurs would go on to win the title over the Cavs.

2006

Eastern Conference: Detroit Pistons

Once again behind their tough defense, the Pistons landed the top seed in the East. They easily defeated the Bucks in round one, needing just five games to advance. LeBron James and the Cavaliers put up a valiant effort in round two, taking the Pistons to seven games before being held to 61 points in Game Seven as the Pistons moved on. Their run came to an end in the conference finals, losing 4-2 to the eventual NBA champion HEAT.

Western Conference: San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs went 63-19 on their way to the top of the West in 2006. They were able to get past the Kings in six games in round one, but faced a much tougher challenge in round two. The Mavericks took the Spurs to seven games and pulled off the upset in the conference semi-finals, defeating the Spurs 4-3.

2005

Eastern Conference: Miami HEAT

With Dwyane Wade playing some of the best basketball of his career, the HEAT were a dangerous team in the East. The looked unstoppable in the first two rounds of the playoffs, sweeping the Nets and Wizards consecutively. However, they met their match in the conference finals against Pistons. The Pistons’ physical play slowed down the HEAT and proved to be too much as Miami was defeated in seven games.

Western Conference: Phoenix Suns

Coach Mike D’Antoni had the Suns playing some of the most entertaining basketball of the last decade during the 2004-05 season. They led the league in scoring at 110.4 points and were a joy to watch. They had no trouble in their first round match-up with the Grizzlies, sweeping the series. In round two, they faced the Mavericks, winning that series in six games. The Suns took on the Spurs in the conference finals. The Spurs were able keep the Suns’ free flowing offense in check, defeating Phoenix, 4-1. The Spurs went on to beat the Pistons in the Finals.

 

As you can see, over the last the decade the top seed has won a number of NBA titles. However, there have also been a few instances of the top seed being sent home in round one. For the most part, the West has been the deeper conference and posed more of a challenge for the top seed to make it all the way to the Finals – and that will once again be true this season. In the East, the Hawks shouldn’t have much difficulty in round one, but could be challenged deeper into the postseason with the way the Cavaliers have played lately. It will be interesting see how far the top seeds advance this postseason.

This is John's second year with Basketball Insiders, after spending last season working as an intern. Based out of Milwaukee, he covers the NBA with a focus on the Milwaukee Bucks and the Central Division.

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Looking Toward The Draft: Power Forwards

Basketball Insiders continues their NBA Draft watch, this time with the power forwards.

David Yapkowitz

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We got some updated NBA draft news this week when the league announced that several key dates have been pushed back including the draft, the start of free agency and the beginning of the 2020-21 season.

The 2020 draft was originally scheduled for Oct. 16, but it will now likely occur sometime in November. Obviously, with the COVID-19 pandemic still wildly out of control in the United States, all of these potential deadlines are fluid and subject to change.

With that said, we’re continuing our position by position breakdown here at Basketball Insiders of some of the top 2020 draft prospects. We looked at the point guards and shooting guards last week, and this week we’re covering the small forwards and power forwards.

The power forward crop, like the draft overall, doesn’t appear to be as strong as recent years, that doesn’t mean there aren’t potential contributors and high-level NBA players available, as well as one who might just turn out to be a star-caliber player.

Onyeka Okongwu, USC – 19 years old

Okongwu is the player who just might develop into a star on some level. He was actually underrated in high school and was snubbed for a McDonald’s All-American selection his senior year. He established himself early on at USC as the team’s best player as a freshman and now appears to have turned some heads.

He’s been mentioned as a lottery pick and in some mock drafts, he’s top 4-5. He possesses a great all-around skill-set; he can score in the post, he can put the ball on the floor and attack and he can shoot. But perhaps his biggest attribute is his versatility on the defensive end. He’s got quick feet and mobility and can guard multiple positions.

Okongwu might actually play center in the NBA, especially in small-ball lineups, but he’s mostly played power forward and so he’ll probably see time there in the league. His skill-set fits perfectly with today’s game.

Obi Toppin, Dayton – 22 years old

Toppin is one of the older players in the draft, and in recent history, players that age tend to slip on draft boards. In Toppin’s case, it looks like the reverse might actually be true. He’s been projected as a lottery pick, and even going in the top 3.

He’s an incredibly athletic player who thrives in the open court. He looks like he’ll do well in an up-tempo offensive system that has capable playmakers who can find him in transition. He’s extremely active around the rim and he can finish strong. A decent shooter too, something he’ll need at the next level.

Toppin has the physical tools to be an effective defensive player, but that’s where the questions marks on him have been. In the NBA, he’s likely going to have to play and guard multiple positions. Whether or not he can adapt to that likely will answer the question as to what his ceiling can be.

Precious Achiuwa, Memphis – 20 years old

Achiuwa is another intriguing prospect. this writer actually got to watch him play in person while he was in high school and he was very impressive. He looked like a man among boys. He’s projected to be a late lottery pick.

He has an NBA-ready body and he’s got some toughness around the rim and in the paint. He was a double-double threat during his one season at Memphis and his knack for rebounding is something that should translate to the NBA. He’s a very good defender too, in particular, as a rim protector. He’s very quick and has the ability to guard multiple positions.

One of the main knocks on Achiuwa is his shooting ability. He didn’t shoot that well in college and power forwards being able to space the floor is almost a requirement in today’s NBA game. It’s something he can certainly work on and improve on though.

Honorable Mentions:
Paul Reed, DePaul – 21 years old
Xavier Tillman, Michigan State – 21 years old
Killian Tillie, Gonzaga – 22 years old

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Looking Toward the Draft: Small Forwards

Basketball Insiders’ examination of the 2020 draft class continues with a look at the small forwards.

Drew Maresca

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It was announced on Wednesday that the NBA Draft would be delayed from Oct. 16 to Nov. 18. The rationale is that the extra month gives the league and its players association more time to negotiate changes to the CBA. It also grants teams additional time to procure information on prospects and allows the NBA to establish regional virtual combines. But nothing is set in stone.

Still, draft prep must continue. This year’s draft class has more question marks than usual – which was complicated by the cancellation of the NCAA tournament (along with the NIT and a number of conference tournaments). There are incredibly skilled offensive players with limited offensive upside and jaw-droppingly talented defenders with incomplete offensive packages. But if (recent) history serves as a guide, there will be a few guys who make an immediate impact – and some of them very well could be small forwards.

The small forward position is key for the modern NBA. Want proof? Survey the league and you’ll find that most – if not all – contenders have an elite small forward – Milwaukee, Los Angeles (both), Boston, Miami, Toronto.

But the list of can’t miss small forward prospects feels smaller than usual. Scanning the numerous legitimate mock drafts (including our own by Steve Kyler), it becomes apparent that we lack a consensus on which small forwards will be selected (and in what order) after the top 3 or 4. Can any of them grow into a star? Maybe. Maybe not. But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s identify what the top few bring to the table.

Deni Avdija, Israel – 19 years old

Avdija is a relatively well-rounded prospect who’s played professionally since he was 16. He boasts good height (6-foot-9) and uses it effectively to shoot over and pass around opposing defenses. Further, Avdija is an exceptional playmaker and he’s incredibly confident, enabling him to take chances many players would be apprehensive trying. Avdija is a high-IQ player. And what’s more, he’s a surprisingly strong defender. His height and above-average athleticism allow him to block shots, and he’s more physical than you’d expect him to be.

But there are drawbacks to Avdija, too. His main issue is around shooting. Avdija shot only 28% in the EuroLeague last season, and he shot only 60% from the free-throw line. Further, while he’s a decent athlete, he’ll struggle to secure a role in the NBA. He’s going to need to add speed to stay with modern wings, and he’ll also have to bulk up to bang with power forwards.

Still, Avdija’s upside is alluring. He’s only 19, and his smarts, confidence and grittiness should provide him cover for much of his rookie season. Avdija should be the first small forward off of the board.

Isaac Okoro, Auburn – 19 years old

Avdija might be the flashier name currently, but Okoro will give him a run for his money in terms of which small forward is first off the board. Okoro is built like a traditional NBA wing; he’s 6-foot-6 with good strength packed in his muscular frame (215 lbs). Okoro finishes well around the rim and he converts well through contact. He’s an exceptional athlete who excels catching the ball on the move. Like Avdija, Okoro has the poise and composure of a more experienced player. Also, like Avdija, Okoro looked the part of a high IQ player in his lone season at Auburn.

And while all that is great, the main allure of Okoro is his defense. He’s a fairly advanced defender given his age, and his athleticism and timing make him an effective weak side help defender.

While Okoro’s raw abilities are exquisite, his refined offensive skills leave something to be desired. Okoro shot 28 percent on three-point field goals and he struggled from the free-throw line (67.2 percent). His mid-range jump shot also needs work, and he struggles in isolation situations.

If Okoro can hone his offensive game, he could grow into an All-Star. He has the ability to guard multiple positions, and his strength and athleticism give him a leg up on most prospects. But even if he doesn’t become an All-Star, he possesses a fairly high floor given his defensive abilities — and the guy definitely fills the state sheet (12.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists, .9 steals and .9 blocks). He has lockdown defender potential and he’ll put his stamp on the game beginning on night one.

Devin Vassell, Florida State – 20 years old

Vassell played two seasons at Florida State, but he came into his own in his Sophomore season. He averaged 12.7 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.0 blocks per game. He shot a more than respectable 41.5% on three-point attempts, and he demonstrated a strong stroke from the free-throw line (73.8 percent) and on two-point field goal attempts (53.2).

Vassell is an extremely athletic leaper, who can rise up for a highlight dunk and sprint down the floor with ease. He has good body control and demonstrated a strong mid-range game, especially his step-back jump shot. But Vassell must generate more free throws through decisive moves to the hoop, which would be bolstered by a more muscular frame. Additionally, he must improve his ball-handling to get more from isolations.

Vassell will have an adjustment period in terms of scoring the ball at the next level. Fortunately, his defense and shooting should get him by. If he can bulk up and improve his handling, Vassell could grow into a serious player.

Aaron Nesmith, Vanderbilt – 20 years old

Nesmith probably has a lower floor than any of the other top small forward prospects given that he’ll be 21 by the draft. Still, he looked quite good in his Junior year, averaging 23 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game on a scorching 52.2 percent shooting from deep. Nesmith is an incredibly gifted shooter who has impressive range. His ability to catch-and-shoot and create space with fakes makes him a promising prospect – for the right team.

Nesmith is a high IQ player who uses his smarts on the defensive end. He’s also quite strong, can get buckets in the open floor and demonstrates above average ball-handling skills, as long as he’s not taking the ball to the hoop.

But there are inherent limitations in Nesmith’s game. He’s doesn’t create for his teammates too effectively and he turns the ball over more frequently than one would like with. Further, Nesmith is plagued by robotic movements that limit his athleticism. His ball-handling breaks down when taking the ball to the rack – something he’ll certainly have to work on in the NBA if he wants to be a versatile scoring threat against the bigger and stronger competition.

Still, Nesmith’s positives give him an excellent chance at being selected in the first round. His range alone will intrigue teams in need of a shooter.

Honorable Mentions:

Saddiq Bey, Villanova – 21 years old

Jaden McDaniels, Washington – 19 years old

Robert Woodard II, Mississippi State – 20 years old

With the uncertainty around small forward prospects, expect to see a revolving door of names enter the discussion after the first four wing prospects are off the board prior to Nov. 16 – assuming the draft is held then. But regardless of how you have them ranked, all of the aforementioned prospects have question marks. But all have had far more time to improve than they would have in years’ past. Let’s hope that shows come next season.

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NBA

NBA Daily: Opposite Plotlines for Today’s Matchups

With the two matchups going on today, Matt John examines the two teams who could be in the most trouble because of one of their individual stars for opposite reasons.

Matt John

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The second round of the NBA playoffs was hyped up to be one of the most entertaining we’ve had in years. So far, they haven’t fallen short of expectations. We knew that Houston and Los Angeles’ battle of opposite philosophies would make for some twists and turns. We knew that Boston and Toronto would duke it out in an Atlantic Division showdown. We knew that Miami would push Milwaukee to new heights. We didn’t really know if the Nuggets would give the Clippers a good series, but the fact that they have so far has made an intense postseason all the more gripping.

Anyway, today we’re getting two games from two series in completely opposite places. The Lakers and the Rockets will face off for the series lead, while the HEAT will try to finish off the Bucks once and for all. Below, we’re going to focus on two teams who have an individual star that either may be more flawed than we thought or one that may not be as flawed as we thought.

Bucks vs. HEAT: Giannis is great and all, but…

We all pretty much knew this was going to be a good series. We did not expect this.

The buzz surrounding Bucks v. HEAT was that Miami was going to make Milwaukee earn every win they got in this series. If that was the plan, then Miami has failed miserably, because until Khris Middleton went supernova on them on Sunday, Milwaukee had come up terribly short.

Let’s first give Miami the credit that they are due and more. With Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler alone, Miami was going to be a tough matchup for Milwaukee – but to see the Bucks all but roll over in this series is an unpleasant sight. Acquiring Jae Crowder and Andre Iguodala has paid huge dividends and it’s showing. There are other factors involved, but Miami’s defensive efforts have limited Giannis to 21.8 points a game and that’s played a role in the HEAT being in the driver’s seat of this series.

Speaking of Giannis Antetokounmpo, this series has not been a good look for the Defensive Player of the Year. Especially since it looks like his second consecutive MVP (presumably) is right around the corner. So, to see both him and Milwaukee, once an unstoppable force without an immovable object in sight, get stopped by a sturdy but not immovable squad is saddening.

Nearly a year ago, Basketball Insiders compared these current Bucks to the Dwight Howard-led Orlando Magic from the late-2000’s/early 2010’s. To oversimplify things, both were contenders led by a superstar with a rare physique that made them tough to stop. To put the superstar in the best position, they surrounded them with playmakers and three-point shooters.

While the teams’ roster constructions weren’t exactly the same, their strengths as a team certainly were. Now we’re seeing the Bucks’ flaws just as we did the Magic 10 years ago. If you have the personnel to make the lone superstar uncomfortable, the team doesn’t function as well.

Giannis is near impossible to stop, but the one major flaw is that if you take away his ability to drive and force him into a jumper, he loses his rhythm. Even if his shot is on – never a guarantee – his opponents will let him beat them that way until he makes them pay. Hardly any team can pick on this, but the HEAT are one of them, and now they’re one win away from their first Eastern Conference Finals since LeBron James took his talents out of South Beach.

This ultimately is what puts Antetokounmpo below the likes of LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard for now. Those guys are rare physical specimens like him, but their elite games don’t revolve entirely around their natural gifts as he does or Dwight did. At 25 years old, there’s plenty of time for him to change that and, for all we know, he will, but to see him struggle at a time when the conference was supposed to run through him has ignited tons of questions.

Milwaukee’s technically not out yet, but they’ve shown their mortality against Miami. If this really is it for them, then they’ve got to find a quick fix for this problem because if they don’t, then the unspeakable may happen.

Lakers vs. Rockets: Westbrook has been bad and all but…

Shaking off the rust and recovering from a balky knee would be tough for anyone. For Russell Westbrook, it’s killing his productivity and, in turn, the Rockets’ playoff chances. He’s averaging 15.6 points on 39/16/47 splits with a most recent 10-point, 4-of-15 effort from the field which included seven turnovers and air balling wide-open threes sticking out like a sore thumb.

It also doesn’t help that he’s playing the Lakers of all teams. When Westbrook has been in, the Lakers have taken advantage of his shortcomings offensively and it shows both on the court and the stat line.

Most of Westbrook’s damage is hurting Houston on the offensive end. With the All-Star guard in the game, Houston is minus-13.7 with him on the court, the worst offensive rating on the team. The 12 turnovers he’s coughed up in this series probably have something to do with that.

With Westbrook’s struggles and his predecessor Chris Paul coming off of his best individual season since 2016, this, of course, has led to many second-guessing the swap last summer. Or let’s rephrase that: People have been second-guessing that trade since the moment it was announced and, in light of recent events, they’re piling on now more than ever.

Maybe they’re right. Even after playing in the NBA for over a decade now, Westbrook still hasn’t proven that he can control himself enough to reach his potential as a team player. We’ve seen glimpses. On the other hand, Paul showed that he can still pick apart defenses while holding his own on that end.

But replacing Paul with Westbrook was Harden’s idea. He didn’t want to play with Paul anymore and chose to play with one of his closest friends. You may think that the better fit is what’s best for the team, but we’ve seen the damage that can happen when your team’s best players have friction with one another. It hurt Utah this season. It hurt Boston last season. It destroyed the Lakers back in 2013. There’s no telling what it could have done to Houston this season.

Besides, we know that as bad as Westbrook has been, he’s capable of being better. Not a knockdown shooter, not even an efficient scorer, but he has done better in the past when the focus was on him. The more days he takes to shake off the rust from his knee, the more optimistic the Rockets ought to be.

The Rockets have to take the glass-half-full on this one because they don’t really have a choice otherwise.

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