Rockets Hope Eric Gordon Plays in Seeding Games Before Postseason

Michael Shapiro

Perhaps the most interesting stretch of the Rockets' loss to the Blazers on Tuesday came in the final minutes of the third quarter. James Harden exited the contest after picking up his fifth foul with 5:06 left in the period, and Russell Westbrook left the floor less than two minutes later. The Rockets' supporting cast was forced to assume a rare amount of responsibility without either MVP on the floor. 

Houston more than treaded water without Harden or Westbrook, going on a 11-2 run as it erased a nine-point deficit. Jeff Green and Austin Rivers each hit big threes, and Danuel House made impact plays on both ends of the floor. But the brief stretch or success is more likely to be an anomaly than a fixture in the postseason. Any minutes with both MVPs on the bench creates the opportunity for disaster.

The Rockets are able to defend well enough without Harden and Westbrook. Austin Rivers is a quality on-ball defender, while Ben McLemore and Jeff Green provide plenty of scoring and stretch. Yet Houston has a serious playmaking problem as currently constituted. Eric Gordon can help fill the gap.

Gordon hasn't played in any of Houston's seeding games after spraining his left ankle in a scrimmage on July 28. And his absence doesn't just hinder the Rockets in the rare instance that both MVPs are off the floor. Gordon is a valuable swiss army knife for Houston. He can threaten defenses numerous feet beyond the arc, and he's a dynamic slasher and scorer off the bounce. Even when just one of Harden or Westbrook sit, Gordon's offensive firepower adds another element to the Rockets' offense. 

Houston appears optimistic that Gordon's absence won't extend into the postseason. Rockets head coach Mike D'Antoni said on Tuesday he hopes to see Gordon on the floor during at least one seeding game, and D'Antoni reiterated that wish on Wednesday. 

"Every day [Gordon] is getting better. We hope he starts shooting tomorrow, or the next day," D'Antoni said on Tuesday night. "Pretty soon, he’ll be back. We don’t want to push him, and we have time. But we’d like him to hit the floor once or twice before the playoffs start."

It's certainly been a challenging season for Gordon as he prepares for the 2020 playoffs. The Indiana product underwent knee surgery in November, and he subsequently battled a stream of ankle and shin injuries. Add in a career-worst 37% from the field, and 2019-20 has largely been a year to forget. But it's not too late for Gordon to save his season. If the 12-year veteran is on the floor to start the before the playoffs, he could be a key piece in a run to the Finals.