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Rockets' Daryl Morey Talks Load Management for James Harden, Russell Westbrook

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured ColumnistJuly 30, 2019

Team Stephen's James Harden, left, of the Houston Rockets, talks with Team LeBron's Russell Westbrook, of the Oklahoma City Thunder, during the second half of an NBA All-Star basketball game, Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)
Chris Pizzello/Associated Press

Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey acknowledged Tuesday that there will be a load management plan in place for superstar guards James Harden and Russell Westbrook during the 2019-20 season. 

Appearing on The Dan Patrick Show (h/t Alykhan Bijani of The Athletic), Morey noted the importance of ensuring both players are healthy and fresh come playoff time: "Yeah, it always is [part of the strategy]. We try not to label it. ... Yeah, it'll be a very put together plan by our staff throughout the season to have our guys peak in April."

The Rockets' championship hopes will rest firmly on the shoulders of Harden and Westbrook after Houston acquired Westbrook from the Oklahoma City Thunder this offseason for guard Chris Paul, two first-round picks and the right to swap two future first-round picks.

Harden and Westbrook are both workhorses who withstand more wear and tear than the average player, given how ball-dominant they are and how important they have been to the success of their respective teams in recent years.

Last season, Harden played 78 games, marking the fourth time in the past five seasons he has played at least that many. Westbrook was limited to 73, but he appeared in at least 80 in each of the previous three campaigns.

Harden and Westbrook averaged 36-plus minutes per game last season as well. Harden was forced to play a ton with Paul and center Clint Capela injured for extended periods, while there was slightly less burden on Westbrook with Paul George in the fold and Dennis Schroder providing quality guard depth.

If the Rockets are going to finally get over the hump and vie for a title this season, it's incumbent upon Harden and Westbrook to stay healthy. They are both one-time league MVPs, and they give Houston arguably the most dangerous and versatile backcourt in the NBA.

Harden led the NBA in scoring for the second consecutive season in 2018-19 with 36.1 points per game, while Westbrook has averaged a triple-double in each of the past three campaigns.

Resting Harden and Westbrook could be a tricky proposition given how deep and talented the Western Conference is. In addition to last season's top teams, such as the Portland Trail Blazers, Denver Nuggets and Golden State Warriors, likely remaining in the playoff race, the Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, New Orleans Pelicans and Dallas Mavericks have all improved significantly.

In order to maximize their chances of winning and ensuring a solid playoff seed, Houston may have to stagger the rest days for Harden and Westbrook.

The Toronto Raptors proved last season that load management is vital, as Kawhi Leonard played in only 60 regular-season games and went on to dominate in the playoffs en route to being named NBA Finals MVP.

Houston has long been on the cutting edge of analytics in the NBA, and if the numbers show that load management will increase the Rockets' chances of winning a title, there is little doubt Harden and Westbrook will receive the requisite amount of rest.