The Houston Rockets look like a very strong candidate to advance to the Western Conference playoffs as we enter the final stretch of the season. Currently seated at seventh place in the West, the Rockets have been on a tear recently and could potentially advance as high as sixth place with a solid finish.
Furthermore, Houston’s already-high playoff hopes may have taken another boost with the unfortunate injury of Lakers star Kobe Bryant. Bryant suffered a severe ankle sprain in the closing seconds of a contest with the Atlanta Hawks, and he is now out indefinitely.
Bryant’s injury could potentially knock the surging Lakers out of playoff contention, which would clear away a major threat to Houston’s position. However, it also brings to light a rather scary truth for the Rockets: They too are overly reliant on a star shooting guard to carry the team.
While the Rockets get significant contributions from a wide variety of players, this team has a clear-cut top player and questionable depth. If leading scorer James Harden were to go down with an injury, this team would struggle mightily to overcome the setback.
But Harden isn’t the only player who the Rockets can’t stand to lose.
Chandler Parsons has produced at an outstanding level recently, and his contributions cannot be overlooked. An injury to other core players like Omer Asik or Jeremy Lin could be similarly devastating.
While injuries are impossible to predict and somewhat pointless to speculate about, there is no denying their ability to abruptly crush the chances of any team, especially one as fragile as the Rockets. However, a related threat could loom in the recovery of key players belonging to Houston’s rivals.
The Utah Jazz are one of the top contenders for the West’s final playoff spot, and though they have struggled recently, they could be in for a turnaround due to the return of top players and the emergence of Enes Kanter.
Mo Williams and Paul Millsap both returned from injury this week, which should greatly strengthen Utah’s starting lineup. However, even if those two players struggle, the Jazz are fortunate to have a greatly improved second unit now playing like an actual team.
Utah has proven to be a streaky team, but one that will not give in easily, and it should continue to be a threat through the finish line.
The Lakers cannot be counted out, either. Despite Kobe’s injury, this team still has the league’s best center on board, along with a well-travelled veteran in Steve Nash.
L.A. is still very much a playoff threat with or without their star player, especially if Dwight Howard continues to regain his form. And considering Kobe’s history of playing through injury, it would not be overly surprising if he returned sooner rather than later to lead his team on a final charge to the postseason.
Ultimately, the Rockets cannot afford to grow complacent or underestimate their opponents. The playoff race is still very much alive, and a key injury at a bad time could be truly devastating for this Houston team.
In order to avoid another disappointment this season, Harden and Co. must continue to play hard and approach every game like it’s the deciding contest of the season. Because it just might be.