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Houston Rockets: Russell Westbrook’s return puts NBA on notice

Per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Russell Westbrook ‘Looked as explosive as ever’ in his first full-speed scrimmage since injuring his right quad. If true, the Houston Rockets could be a problem.

I’m trying to find a scenario where a fully healthy Houston Rockets squad loses in a seven-game series.

I can’t find one.

After recently announcing that point guard, Russell Westbrook is planning to make his playoff debut for Houston this Saturday, their first-round matchup with the Oklahoma City Thunder just got a whole lot different.

The Rockets were one of few teams this season who faced constant adversity further than just an Eric Gordon injury. Before halting the regular season, they traded away Clint Capela, their only conventional big man, and brought in Jeff Green and Robert Covington. Covington was the only one out of the two to eclipse 20 games in a Rockets uniform, which isn’t a ton of time.

Then, the season comes to a screeching halt, further complicating their ability to play in a game-like scenario. It’s already difficult enough understand the Rockets’ play style. If that wasn’t enough, Westbrook contracted Covid-19 before entering the bubble and then injured himself weeks later. Talk about a streak of bad luck. Despite everything they’ve been through, the Rockets never let it affect them, and now they’re within striking distance of something special.

In the midst of a deadlock 2-2 series, the Rockets have dropped their last two, looking especially vulnerable in game 3. When James Harden fouled out during the beginning of the Overtime period, OKC outscored Houston 15-3. It looked like the Thunder were starting to gain some momentum, especially after winning game 4 as well. Insert an energetic Westbrook into the lineup, however, and this series is completely different.

Westbrook rolls into Saturday averaging 27.2 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 7 assists. He’ll presumably become the sixth Rocket to average double figures in points during the playoffs, and he’ll most certainly help in bringing his team back to the second-highest pace rating in the NBA. I thought that the Thunder were going to win this series pretty decisively without the presence of Westbrook, but now I expect the Rockets to run them off the court and make a deep run into the postseason.

I’ve heard so many people say that anything can happen in the bubble, and I really believe that. Based on the way the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers have limped (for their standards) through the first round of the playoffs, Houston losing in a seven-game series when Portland and Dallas are giving the top two seeds in the West all the trouble in the world is farfetched to me.

This is the time for the Rockets to take advantage of an incredible opportunity. Their core guys are healthy and producing, and even some role players are proving valuable when I didn’t think they would. Most importantly, their two best players are in their prime and were playing their best basketball before the season paused. At one point, Harden and Westbrook were the only pair of teammates in NBA history to average 30 and 5 in a single calendar month, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

Brodie and The Beard were close before, but couldn’t get it done in OKC. They’ll more than likely play the Lakers in the second round; what a series that would be. I genuinely think that their tempo and overpowering guard play could prove troublesome to a measly Laker backcourt of Alex Caruso and Danny Green. Anything can happen, but the Rockets are live, so don’t be surprised if they shock the world and make a run to the NBA finals.