How Will Russell Westbrook’s COVID-19 Result Affect the Rockets’ NBA Chances?

Russell Westbrook, Rockets

Getty Russell Westbrook, Rockets

We’ve had some big names and All-Star caliber players COVID-19 has mostly spared NBA superstars. Until now. Houston’s Russell Westbrook, an eight-time All-Star and the league’s MVP in 2016-17, announced that he has tested positive for the virus and is not showing any symptoms. He said he is in quarantine and will join his teammates once he is able to do so.

Westbrook posted on Twitter that he tested positive for COVID-19 before his Rockets were slated to arrive in the NBA’s “bubble” environment at the Wide World of Sports Complex at Disney World. He also encouraged others to take precautions when it comes to the virus.

“Please take this virus seriously,” he wrote. “Be safe. Mask up!”

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Rockets Considered a Darkhorse Contender

Just how this could affect the Rockets—seen as a darkhorse contender entering the league’s planned July 30 restart in Orlando—will be worth watching.

Westbrook is in his first season with Houston after spending his entire career in Oklahoma City. He got off to a rocky start with the Rockets, averaging 21.9 points and just 40.6% shooting in his first 20 games with the team. But he took off as the season went on, and in his last 34 games, he averaged 30.7 points on 50.9% shooting.

It took Westbrook a while to adjust and took the Rockets a while to change their approach so that they could highlight what Westbrook does best.

“We’re giving him space for him to go out there and do what he does at a high level, what he’s been doing for the last 12 years,” fellow star guard James Harden said over All-Star weekend in February. “You let him go out there and be himself. The comfort level is there. And it’s still only been a few months since he’s been here. He’s still getting adjusted, but he’s looking more comfortable and he’s playing more free.”

The Rockets also took a gamble on Westbrook’s ability to attack the lane when they traded away center Clint Capela to go with an all small-ball lineup that spreads the floor and features forward Robert Covington at center. It’s a risky style of play that has produced mixed results (Houston is 8-6 since the Capela deal) but the Rockets committed themselves to it.

Rockets GM: ‘We Should Win This Thing’

Houston enters the NBA restart sixth in the Western Conference, which would leave them, as things stand now, with a good first-round matchup against the Nuggets. The Rockets could easily move up—they’re only 2.5 games behind Denver at No. 3, 1.0 game behind Utah at No. 4 and tied, record-wise, with Oklahoma City at No. 5.

Even if the team does not move up, they are entering the remainder of this season with a surprising amount of confidence for a team that has been inconsistent.

General manager Daryl Morey said, back in mid-June, that not only do the Rockets have a chance but they “should win.”

“It’s basketball pressure,” Morey said when asked if his team was facing pressure. “I think we’ve seen real pressure in the world right now and thankfully it looks like some real, material changes are being made and everyone’s looking at themselves. But basketball pressure-wise, it’s a lot. Again, two of the greatest players ever on our team, we should win this thing.”

Of course, Morey was making the presumption that Westbrook would be on hand. He probably will, eventually. But that’s only if continues to show no symptoms from COVID-19, can get to Orlando safely and will be able to get into game shape quickly. If that does not happen, Houston’s hopes of contending are dashed.

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