Last night, the Rockets, after trading away their only viable big man for Robert Covington, trotted out this lineup:
6-foot-3 Russell Westbrook
6-foot-5 James Harden
6-foot-4 Eric Gordon
6-foot-7 Danuel House
6-foot-5 P.J. Tucker
Harden took the opening tip, for Muggsy Bogues’ sake.
It was the shortest starting lineup in the NBA in more than 50 years. It was the fully mutated final form of Mike D’Antoni’s now-modest-seeming reinvention of the Suns 13 years ago.
Most importantly, it worked: The Rockets beat the Lakers, who started two seven-footers and LeBron James, 121-111.
How sustainable this is is anyone’s guess; the ultra-small lineup is uncharted NBA territory.
What stuck out most last night, though, was Russell Westbrook’s play.
(Full disclosure: The Grip has had Stockholm Syndrome for Westbrook for years.)
In a game with Harden, Anthony Davis and LeBron, he was the best player.
41 points (he eclipsed 20,000 career points), 17 of 28 shooting, 1 of 2 from deep, eight rebounds, five assists
In recent weeks, he’s completely ditched his broken 3-point shot and attacked the hell out of the rim, like with this hesi move on Davis and this back down destruction of Rajon Rondo.
There’s been a direct correlation between his rising efficiency and impact and his decrease in attempted outside shots. By month, his overall shooting percentage has gone from:
42.6 in Oct. and Nov.
42.8 in Dec.
51.8 in Jan. and Feb.
He’s also averaging 33.4 points over the last 30 days and the most drives per game in that span, as well. It’s like he’s the first person in history to decide on a New Year’s resolution and actually stick with it.
2020 Russ, so far, is what we’ve always wanted him to be. And that could be a glorious sign for the Rockets going forward, tiny lineup or not.
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