LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — In the playoffs, you need all the help you can get.
So on the eve of an elimination Game 5 against the Lakers, the Houston Rockets got unfortunate news: Danuel House, one of their key rotation players, was forced to leave the bubble after an NBA investigation concluded he had breached health protocols by inviting an unauthorized guest to his room.
The Rockets played the last two games, both losses, without House (11.4 ppg, 5.8 rpg in the playoffs) after the league launched an investigation into a Sept. 8 encounter with an unauthorized guest, reported by The Athletic to be a female subcontractor, in his room in the Grand Floridian Hotel for multiple hours. The Rockets are the only team occupying the hotel, which also is a quarantine site for some player guests.
House won’t play again for Houston this season, which now that the Rockets are down 3-1 is looking perilously short. Houston did not hold a media availability ahead of Saturday’s Game 5, tipping at 5 p.m. PDT.
It’s the first violation of bubble protocol that has resulted in the player having to leave. Richaun Holmes and Bruno Cabaclo (who is also on the Rockets) received additional quarantine after violating the required boundaries for food pick-up. The Clippers’ Lou Williams had to quarantine for additional time after it was revealed he visited an Atlanta strip club during an absence from the team for personal reasons.
House had played in nine games for the Rockets, starting four in place of Russell Westbrook. The Lakers have capitalized on the shortened rotation with their depth, even throwing rookie Talen Horton-Tucker at them in the last game. But Danny Green, a winner of two titles in San Antonio and Toronto, cautioned against complacency.
“Elimination games are always hard regardless of what round it is,” he said. “They’re always hard. It’s the hardest game to win. A team has nothing to lose and they’re fighting for their lives.”
The Lakers are largely occupied off court with their families from when player guests were let into the bubble a week-and-a-half ago. Coach Frank Vogel said he’s not concerned about his team making the same mistake as House.
“Honestly, I don’t feel like our group has to have that talk,” Vogel said. “Our guys are really locked into the task at hand. Obviously the situation is a reminder, they’re seeing it on their phones. Obviously we don’t want to do that.”
Assistant Phil Handy linked to Nets
Rumors about lead assistant Jason Kidd being a candidate for other head coaching jobs have persisted for months, but the Lakers likely will have to start protecting the rest of their staff after leading the Western Conference in wins and being on the cusp of the conference finals.
The Athletic was first to report that new Brooklyn head coach and former Laker Steve Nash is looking to recruit Phil Handy, another of Vogel’s front-of-the-bench assistants, to his own staff. Aside from an existing relationship with Nets star guard Kyrie Irving, Handy is also a friend of Nash, who recorded drills for his basketball coaching app.
Vogel said he didn’t know about the report, but offered that the Lakers grant permission for their assistants to interview on a case-by-case basis, and that he would typically grant permission for “an advancement opportunity.” Handy is the main coach on staff who conducts one-on-one sessions with LeBron James. His success, including two titles with Cleveland and the Raptors, is something the Lakers had hoped would be a positive omen.
“He’s been in the Finals the last five years and obviously has great experience and background in working with LeBron, does a great job with our whole group in player development and has been an integral part of our success this year,” Vogel said.