The Houston Rockets and Denver Nuggets currently hold the 6th and 3rd seed in the Western Conference, (respectively) and a best-of-7 matchup between these two teams would be very interesting. This is primarily because of one reason.
The Houston Rockets would likely play their normal starting lineup of Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Eric Gordon, Robert Covington, and PJ Tucker. The tallest player in this starting lineup is Robert Covington at 6’7″, and their “center” PJ Tucker is 245 pounds, but only 6’5″.
The Denver Nuggets, on the other hand, could theoretically run a lineup of Jamal Murray, Jerami Grant, Bol Bol, Paul Millsap, and Nikola Jokic. The smallest player in this starting lineup is Jamal Murray at 6’4″, but they have two 7-footers in Jokic and Bol Bol, as well as two guys at around 6’7″ in Jerami Grant and Paul Millsap.
This leaves the Rockets at an average height of around 76.9 inches, (about 6’5″), and the Nuggets at around 81 inches, (about 6’8″). Keep in mind, however, that these are the heights for their starting lineups and not the whole entire combined teams.
Assuming both these teams are using these lineups, the matchups will be very interesting. (Also keep in mind that in this article we will assume the Nuggets are using a big man lineup where Will Barton nor Gary Harris will be starting).
Obviously you will have Russell Westbrook and Jamal Murray guarding each other, and James Harden and Jerami Grant will more than likely matchup. Here’s where it gets interesting.
The Rockets could put PJ Tucker on Paul Millsap, as even though Paul is two inches taller, PJ has the weight to keep him in check. Nikola Jokic and Bol Bol will have to be accounted for, and that will be very hard for the Rockets to do with only Eric Gordon and Robert Covington left.
This would leave Robert Covington to guard Nikola Jokic, and Eric Gordon to somehow hold down Bol Bol or vice versa, which would not go well for Houston whatsoever.
An option the Rockets could look at is starting Tyson Chandler over Eric Gordon, and moving PJ Tucker and Robert Covington down a position.
This would mean that Robert Covington would have the duty of guarding Bol Bol, but Nikola Jokic will be held in check by Tyson Chandler and Paul Millsap could be guarded by PJ Tucker still.
However, the Rockets sacrifice some of their shooting with Eric Gordon not being on the floor, meaning that if they want to keep Eric Gordon on the floor, they’d need to play a modified 2-3 zone.
A likely zone starting lineup would include Westbrook, Harden, Gordon, Tucker, and Tyson Chandler.
Westbrook and Harden would obviously guard the perimeter, while Eric Gordon would be responsible for guarding the top of the key, staying around the free-throw line. PJ Tucker and Tyson Chandler would both have the responsibility of keeping the Nuggets big men from scoring in the post.
However, every single player in this big man lineup has shooting capability, and playing a 2-3 will result in a lot more wide-open threes, especially for Bol Bol who is a big guy who gets a lot of his points from the perimeter for being 7’2″.
But of course, with the big man lineup that Denver has, it’ll be hard to keep the Rockets shooting and fast pace play in check.
Assuming the original lineups at the beginning of this article are put into play, (with Tyson Chandler not starting for Houston), Jerami Grant will need to somehow keep James Harden under control while an explosive Russell Westbrook will need to be slowed down by Jamal Murray.
Somehow, the Nuggets will need to keep Eric Gordon from moving around the court to get open shots, and with Bol Bol, Nikola Jokic, and Paul Millsap left on the floor, it’ll be very hard to do so.
Along with Gordon, Paul Millsap and Nikola Jokic will need to keep Robert Covington, who is a very capable shooter, as well as PJ Tucker from getting wide-open shots.
But, if the Rockets do use a Tyson Chandler lineup as mentioned previously, the defensive job will be a lot easier for the Nuggets, as they will not need to worry about Tyson Chandler shooting the rock.
However, two of the three scorers of either Eric Gordon and Robert Covington, as well as PJ Tucker will still be on the court, and no matter which lineup the Rockets put on the floor, a 3-2 zone just might be the best option for Denver.
Jamal Murray, Jerami Grant, and Bol Bol will take the perimeter, and Paul Millsap and Nikola Jokic will defend the paint, focusing more on the outside than the inside though if Tyson Chandler isn’t on the floor.
A series with these two teams would be very interesting, but also very unpredictable. The games could have a final score of 162-148, but if the two teams play a more conservative scheme, the scores could be as low as 99-91.
Who knows how a matchup between these two will go, but you can’t help but wonder.