It is that time of year NBA fans. It is the final stretch to the end of the regular 82-game season. But, unlike the past three years, the outcome of the playoffs this season does not seem as inevitable as the Cleveland Cavaliers versus the Golden State Warriors for the fourth time in a row.
NBA teams from both conferences are on the rise to end the Cavs versus Warriors series once and for all. However, no one is taking that chance with more vengeance than the Houston Rockets.
The Rockets are sitting at the top of the Western Conference playing like kings. Around this time of the year, you can usually bet to see some teams start to fall apart. Playing with the same guys for the past seven months, feeling the pressure of playoff time creeping in, who wouldn’t get a little flustered? Answer: the Houston Rockets. The Rockets went undefeated in the entire month of February while outscoring opponents by an average of 13.3 points per game. Needless to say, the last thing the Rockets are is flustered.
Since the addition of veteran point guard, Chris Paul, this season, the Rocket’s look more like a team than ever before. Paul is definitely the seasoned, assist-dishing point guard Houston needed in order to integrate more players into their game. Now that Houston’s All-Star, James Harden, does not have to run both positions of point guard and shooting guard, the ball movement for the Rockets has increased tremendously. They toss the ball around with a flow that speaks to every player on the court. Since Paul’s addition, Trevor Ariza, Clint Capela, James Harden and Eric Gordon are all averaging more points per game than their preceding season.
Alongside that, Harden is having yet another MVP-contending year. He is putting his defenders on literal ice, as we saw last week Wednesday against LA Clippers’ guard, Wesley Johnson. Harden is averaging the most amount of points per game, 31.1, in his entire career. At the same time, he is managing to shoot a better field goal percentage overall from last season. Simply put, Harden is shaking the competition down for MVP real quick while leading this team to the top with his play this season.
It goes without saying that combining those two extremely powerful offensive threats at the forefront of your offense was just about the best idea Houston could have come up with. The team is 34-3 when Harden and Paul are both on the floor. Officially making them the winningest All-Star pairing in the league.
As for the rest of Houston’s squad, there really isn’t anyone falling short of their preeminent leaders. Everyone on the Rocket’s roster is there to win, no ifs, ands or buts about it.
Rockets center, Clint Capela is having the best season of his career, proving he truly is a young, developing powerhouse in the paint. Small forward, Trevor Ariza, is silently dominating the game, playing completely opposite of what you’d expect a player’s 14th season in the league to look like. Shooting guard, Eric Gordon, is making dropping consecutive back-to-back threes look like just another thing you are supposed to do.
And, to top it all off, Houston’s new additions, Luc Mbah a Moute and P.J. Tucker, are aiding tremendously to their defensive game. The Rockets have finally found that elusive balance between a solid defensive game and their established and effective offensive game.
This year, the Houston Rockets slogan is, “Run As One.” James Harden and company are not falling short of that motto one bit. With the team chemistry Houston is rolling with right now, the Rockets are on track to snag, at least, a place in the Western Conference Finals Championship. They are riding on a 17-game winning streak, after their win last night against the Milwaukee Bucks, making that their second-longest winning streak in franchise history.
Friday night, the Rockets head on the road in hopes to capture yet another win. It will be a battle of the top of the Western Conference versus the Toronto Raptors who stand at the top of the Eastern Conference. If the Rockets take the Raptors down, I do not see any reason the Rockets won’t stay at the top of the NBA throughout the rest of the regular season.