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The Rockets Remain One of the Most Interesting Teams In the Bubble

The Rockets opened the NBA restart with impressive wins over Dallas and Milwaukee, but can they keep up the strong start?

Every weekday, SI’s Chris Mannix will check-in with his Bubble Bits, a quick hit on something notable from inside the NBA’s campus


· So what to make of Houston? The Rockets are 2-0 in this resumed season, following a wildly entertaining overtime thriller against Dallas with a win over Milwaukee on Sunday. Houston’s offense remains incredibly simplistic; against the Bucks, Russell Westbrook (31 points) led an all-out assault against Donte DiVincenzo/George Hill. When the defense collapsed on Westbrook, kicked out to the Rockets collection of willing shooters, who fired up 61—61!—three’s, making 21 of them.

Houston is a wacky team to watch. If you are patient against them, which the Bucks were for long stretches, you can rack up easy buckets. But if you get sloppy, they will put runs on you. Big runs. Westbrook and James Harden are nearly unstoppable in isolation, forcing defenses to collapse on them. The smart way to defend Westbrook is probably to line up a center against him, back way off and dare Westbrook to shoot a high percentage from the perimeter; Utah did it with some success in February. But send help, and you are playing right into the Rockets hands.

Who knows if Houston’s frontcourt will hold up to the physical beating it will likely take in the conference playoffs. Asking P.J. Tucker and Robert Covington to body up with physical seven-footers for extended stretches is a lot to ask. But the Rockets remain one of the most interesting teams left.

· Are the Pelicans being too cautious with Zion Williamson? Alvin Gentry took some heat on Thursday after the Pels coach kept Zion on the bench late in a season opening loss to Utah. Williamson played just 14 minutes on Saturday, though that was due more to New Orleans getting drilled by the Clippers and Gentry seeing no need to extend him. Pelicans GM David Griffin says the team will continue to be cautious with Zion, playing him in short bursts. New Orleans, 3 ½ games back of the final playoff spot with three teams ahead of them, face what amounts to a must win game on Monday, against the Grizzlies.

Speaking to reporters, Griffin says this is about the time Zion missed—Williamson was away from the team for 13 days after having to leave the bubble for a family emergency, which includes the four days he quarantined upon his return—than any specific attempt to avoid injury.

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"This is all about the ramp-up time," Griffin said. "He didn't get the benefit of anything that his teammates got for those 13 days. This is going to take some time, and I think it's going to take time for him, he mentioned his flow and rhythm. It's going to take time for him to find that.”

· Jimmy Butler was not at Heat practice on Sunday, with Miami calling it an “excused absence.” Heat forward Jae Crowder raised some eyebrows when he suggested Butler was in quarantine, and that "we're going to talk to him as soon as he gets out.” Butler scored 22-points in Miami’s resumed season opening win over Denver on Saturday. Butler, who petitioned the NBA to allow him to take his name off his jersey during the resumed season, was forced to swap jerseys in the opener after the referees spotted it.

Miami faces Toronto on Monday afternoon. Butler was not listed on the Heat’s injury report.

"It's definitely a curveball for all of us to hear stuff like what's going on with him, and you never know what to expect,” Crowder said. “You just have to stay mentally engaged as much as possible during this time."

· As expected, teams continued to kneel during the playing of the national anthem over the weekend. With a few notable exceptions. Orlando’s Jonathan Isaac and Miami’s Meyers Leonard stood, as did Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. Isaac, who is Black, cited his faith as his reason for not kneeling. Popovich declined to discuss his reasons, but Popovich has been among the strongest supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement, both publicly and privately.

Leonard pointed to his family connection to the military as the root of his reason to stand. Lenoard’s brother, Bailey, is a Marine who served two tours in Afghanistan. Leonard, who, like his teammates, wore a Black Lives Matter tee shirt, said he agonized over the decision. “I am with the Black Lives Matter movement,” Leonard said, “and I love and support the military and my brother and the people who have fought to defend our rights in this country.”

Leonard’s heart is in the right place, and his teammates were quick to stand by him. Still, by citing the military, Leonard pushes the false narrative that kneeling is a sign of disrespect towards it. Beginning with Colin Kaepernick, athletes who have kneeled during the anthem have made it clear: They respect the military. The intention is to raise awareness for social justice issues, and kneeling during the anthem is a visible way to do it. Players aren’t burning flags. They aren’t vandalizing them. They are demonstrating, peacefully.

· It’s great that Jamal Crawford, at 40, is getting another crack at the NBA. But what was the point if Crawford can’t play? Crawford was inactive for the second straight game on Sunday due to conditioning issues, and it’s unclear when he will be cleared to play.