Before the Rockets practiced Thursday in preparation for their game against the New Orleans Pelicans Friday night at Toyota Center, Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni said that everything he’d like to see his team improve over the final 11 games of the regular season is more mental than anything else. When asked if the stability of his roster over the first 71 games of the season is the reason for that, the Rockets coach took a bit of a shot at other teams around the league.
“These players are pretty resilient,” he said. “It’s nice when you have players that want to play every game and do play every game, it makes it a lot easier.”
After the Cleveland Cavaliers rested LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love for their national TV game against the Clippers last Saturday, the debate over resting players has grown louder. The Rockets are one team that has gone against the grain in that department with James Harden, Trevor Ariza, and Sam Dekker playing in the team’s first 71 games this season. Harden and Ariza have missed one game over the last three seasons, leading the NBA in minutes played in that span.
“That’s why I respect James Harden so much,” Denver Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said before his team lost to the Rockets Monday night. “He wants to play. You have to respect the hell out of that. They have the No. 3 seed fairly firmly established, but he’s a competitor, he’s an old school player, he wants to play, he loves to play.”
Harden has stayed very consistent on his desire to play every game.
“I’ll rest when I’m done,” he said this week. “I feel like my teammates and organization need me to go out there and do what I do. I get obviously paid for it, but it’s something I love. I enjoy the grind. I enjoy how hard it is. I think that makes you tougher. That makes you who you are.”
Back in December, D’Antoni said the NBA should do something to limit road-game rest, even though it’s benefitted his team, like it did in December, when the Sacramento Kings rested center DeMarcus Cousins for a game at Toyota Center.
“My thought on holding people out in mass, I’m not really for it,” D’Antoni said before that game. “You think of the kid that travels three hours to see somebody and they don’t show up, it’s tough. So it’s complicated. I know every coach is trying to do the best for his team and trying to win. He has to do what he thinks is right to win. The league may a have to look at it and figure it out.”
With 11 games left in the season, the Rockets are pretty much locked in to the 3-seed in the Western Conference. They lead Utah by six games in the loss column and trail San Antonio by the same number, so you can argue the last three weeks are pretty meaningless, but don’t expect D’Antoni to ask his best player to take a break before the playoffs.
“Mike knows not to come at me with that,” Harden said.