PJ Tucker

You could really talk about the whole Houston Rockets team, here. But let's focus on Tucker, as the keystone in this whole Rockets project.

So why is a soon to be 35 year old who averages 7.5 points per game the key to the Rockets season? Because he's the player that allows their small ball line-ups to operate. On offense, Tucker's solid stroke from the corner opens up the lane for the languid genius of James Harden and the wrecking ball ferocity of Russell Westbrook. On defense, his ability to reasonably approximate a centre (remembering that he was drafted into the NBA as a shooting guard! His DraftNet comparison was Mario freaking Elie) allows Houston to play their phalanx of guards and rangy wings, switching everything in sight.

If Tucker goes down with injury, or simply can't handle the game to game load of bodying players like Anthony Davis, Rudy Gobert, Kristaps Porzingis and Nikola Jokic, the Rockets will be forced to turn to the improving but limited Isaiah Hartenstein or the ancient Tyson Chandler – obviously neither open up the floor like Tucker does.

So much is riding on Tucker's ability to stay healthy and effective, beyond simply the success of the team this season. Coach Mike D'Antoni is in the final season of his contract and is presumed a lame duck. Short of coaxing Don Nelson out of his retirement, what NBA coach would be comfortable rolling with a roster like this? Acclaimed GM Daryl Morey may be on his way out, as well. He's been in the chair since 2007 but with the Hong Kong controversy and a new owner that might not be as willing to let him experiment, he may be on the hunt for a new challenge. Despite his longevity in his current role, Morey is still only 47 years old – he's got decades ahead of him.

If the Rox can at least win the West, it will be a massive 'Told You So' for both Coach and GM. But Houston's season is finely balanced. If Tucker can't hold up his end of the deal, the house of cards will come tumbling down.

The Race for 8th in the West

Unlike the East, where Brooklyn and Orlando are apparent locks for the final seeds, the West gives us an exciting race that should come down to the wire.

As it stands, that race looks like this:






Schedule Strength








New Orleans












San Antonio





*Strength of schedule via Tankathon

The Grizzlies currently hold a solid lead on the chasing pack as we head into the final two months of the season, but look at that Schedule Strength: Memphis have the toughest run home in the entire league, whilst their direct competitors have amongst the easiest.

The recent knee sprain to Jaren Jackson Jr complicates things further for the Grizz, just as the Pelicans get Zion Williamson up to speed and Portland look to welcome back Zach Collins and Jusuf Nurkic.

New Orleans have had a new lease on life since getting their full roster back together (it’s forgotten, but Zion’s knee has been far from their only injury this season) and with an easy stretch of games, could come home with a wet sail. Watch out for back to back games against the Grizz on March 21 and 24 – a sweep of those two games by either team could decide the 8th seed.

Portland have been snake bitten all season, to the point that Carmelo Anthony was exhumed to play meaningful minutes. As they get their starting front court back, don’t count out a Damian Lillard fuelled run at the final playoff spot.

San Antonio really should be out of it, shouldn’t they? Shouldn’t they?? I think we’ve all been burnt by counting out the Spurs at some point, so until it’s not mathematically possible to make the playoffs, I’m considering them as a part of this race.

There is improvement to be had in San Antonio. Neither Dejounte Murray nor Derrick White have had good seasons: if either get hot, could they spur (sorry!) a late push?

My prediction: Memphis lose their last 3 games (OKC, Philadelphia and Houston), ceding the 8th and final spot to a streaking Pelicans, despite their own closing game loss to the Spurs.

Brooklyn Nets

Regular readers of my Power Rankings will know that I've been harping on throughout the season about the Ewing Theory potential of these Nets. So here's a stat for you.

  • Nets record with Kyrie Irving: 8 wins, 12 losses.

  • Nets record without Kyrie Irving: 18 wins, 17 losses.

A 32 win pace, against a 43 win pace. That's despite Irving averaging a career high 27.4 points per game on very good percentages (including a career high 92.2% from the charity stripe), along with 6.4 assists, 1.4 steals and 5.2 rebounds. By any measure, Irving's numbers are great. So why does the team play so much worse with him on the floor?

Irving is certainly a ball dominant lead guard, but so was the man he replaced in D'Angelo Russell - he's not substituting for a John Stockton style set up man here. The Nets score about 8 points more per 100 possessions with Kyrie; they of course give up far less points when the defensive sieve that is Kyrie sits – that all balances out to roughly a net zero.

One difference between D'Lo's Nets and Kyrie's Nets is the passing. With Russell at the controls, the team were top 5 in passes per possession, according to Second Spectrum. With Kyrie taking command, that drops precipitously to 26th in the league. Spencer Dinwiddie is the Nets leader with Irving out, and he's not exactly a pass-first type. So what's the issue?

I question the Nets attitude. Specifically, their energy levels and urgency then playing with Kyrie. Irving is one of the best ball handlers in the history of basketball. Watching him dance with a defender is a sport within a sport. But it does lead to a lot of standing around, waiting for Kyrie to roast his man. Does a guy like Taurean Prince (not saying for a moment that Prince's attitude needs adjusting) run as hard to corners, after defending Irving's man, knowing that he's probably not going to feel the basketball? Of course, all players should have a level of professional pride, and do their job. That's a reasonable expectation. But as a role player you want to know that your Main Man has your back. Remember this?

How the Nets perform to close out the season, now that Irving is sidelined, will be extremely interesting. 

One final thought to leave you with. Do you recall the last time Kyrie and a star teammate both missed significant time with injury? Do you remember how well things went when they were back on the court? The Celtics do.