AP – It took some time, but the Houston Rockets finally have their two stars back and are focussed on making a deep run in the playoffs.
The Rockets travelled to Florida on July 9 without James Harden and Russell Westbrook. Harden arrived five days later, citing “family issues”. Westbrook revealed he had tested positive for the coronavirus and didn’t arrive until Monday. He and Harden were on the floor together for the first time two days later.
Despite all of that, the Rockets are confident that they will be ready to go when they re-open their season on July 31 against Dallas.
“We have as good of chance to win this as anybody,” coach Mike D’Antoni said. “At the end of the day, it’s going to come down to big players making big plays, and it’s always that way. We’ve got two of the best, if not more.”
The Rockets have already clinched a playoff spot and are tied with Oklahoma City for fifth place in the Western Conference. They will play eight games to determine seeding for the postseason.
“We don’t have any fans, so it’s you versus us and we’re going to have to figure it out,” Harden said. “If you’re fourth seed, fifth seed, sixth seed, it doesn’t really matter. For us, it’s about being in shape and making sure that our offense and our defence are crispy and we’re all on the same page.”
Westbrook, who is in his first season with the Rockets, can’t wait to get going again after such a long layoff. The NBA season was suspended on March 11 because of the pandemic.
“I’m very eager,” he said. “Just being home and being by myself for such a long period of time, away from my family and my teammates and the organisation, so I’m definitely excited to get back on the floor and get things rolling.”
Westbrook said his only symptom of the coronavirus was a stuffy nose and he believes he will be ready to go since he was able to work on his conditioning during his time in quarantine.
Forward Thabo Sefolosha opted out of the restart. He appeared in 41 games this season and was averaging 2.2 points in his first year with the Rockets. The Rockets signed Luc Mbah a Moute earlier this month to take his spot on the roster, but his arrival in Florida was delayed for an undisclosed reason. D’Antoni said he expects the veteran to join the team in the next couple of days.