Let’s keep it simple: The Houston Rockets are a threat to the Golden State Warriors’ title hopes.
Sure enough, it’s foolish to jump into conclusions considering that the Rockets haven’t had much success in the playoffs in recent years. Not to mention that they even have Chris Paul who hasn’t made it to a conference finals in his 13 seasons in the league.
However, there’s a reason the Rockets have the best record in the league right now; and based on what they have shown so far, the Warriors (and perhaps the whole NBA) should be wary of a Houston team that has the effects of “Moreyball” at its peak.
James Harden and Chris Paul: Best backcourt duo?
— Alykhan Bijani (@Rockets_Insider) February 8, 2018
Fans and pundits are quick to dismiss the Rockets, no thanks to their abysmal record in the postseason over the last five years (since Harden’s arrival). They got out of the first round just twice and reached the finals only once, in the 2014-15 season when they eventually lost to the Warriors 4-1.
Nonetheless, this isn’t just Harden’s team now; it’s Harden and Paul’s.
The two have formed one of the best and most dominant backcourt partnerships few have exhibited this season. In fact, the Rockets are 34-3 in games that the two played together. If you throw in Clint Capela to that lineup, Clutch City boasts a 32-1 record.
In comparison, the Dubs’ Splash Bros., Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, are 38-10 together while a Curry-Kevin Durant combo is at 31-10.
Record against Golden State
"Noted…great…we'll see y'all soon"
Draymond Green says the Warriors are ready for the Rockets in the playoffs: pic.twitter.com/hIhLLT7kbY
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) February 28, 2018
With a 15-game winning streak, the Rockets are well on their way of finishing at the top of the West standings. However, in case they finished with the same record as Golden State, they have the tie-breaker after winning the season series against the Warriors.
Houston has beaten Golden State two out of their three meetings. Interestingly, the Warriors’ only win came when Harden didn’t play.
The playoffs, of course, is a different story, but the Rockets surely have no reason to fear any team.
Daryl Morey said it via a tweet on Valentines Day:
— Daryl Morey (@dmorey) February 14, 2018
Some might think there’s bias in there given that it was a team he built, but Morey’s claim isn’t something he made just for the sake of argument. It’s true: the Rockets have the best offense the NBA has seen in its 72-year history so far.
The pairing of Harden and Paul, both offensive superstars, has worked beautifully as they currently have the best offensive rating in league history at 115.9—better than the Showtime Lakers at their peak and last year’s Warriors.
As expected, Houston leads the NBA in three-pointers made, averaging 15.5 makes this season, but they are more than just about long-distance bombs. Their propensity to score from beyond the arc opens up driving lanes on the court, allowing them to get plenty of high-percentage shots and layups or to draw fouls, at least. They are the best when it comes to reaching the charity stripe, leading the league in free throws made per game.
…and improved defensive intensity
Celtics coach Brad Stevens said the Rockets' "defense isn't talked about enough. All their switching, how active they are. In the words of another coach I was talking to, they've taken switching to a whole other level."
— Jonathan Feigen (@Jonathan_Feigen) March 4, 2018
While the Houston offense is up to par with the Warriors’, it’s their improved defense that unlocked their potential.
Last year, the Rockets were 18th in the league in defensive rating. Today, Mike D’Antoni’s men are in the top 10 in that category. During their 15-game win streak, they’ve been among the top defensive teams as well—fourth in the league in defensive rating at 103 points per 100.
Although being a top-10 team on defense might not seem a great thing, it should be noted that no team since 2002 has won the title without having a top-10 defense.
Also, should we even mention that Harden, a notoriously bad defender, is eighth in the NBA in steals?
Harden drops Johnson then hits the three! pic.twitter.com/FImUzS9t24
— The Render (@TheRenderNBA) March 1, 2018
Even if the Rockets have the tools and talent, everything would be useless if they don’t believe they can win it all. Fortunately, they aren’t short in that area as well.
There’s plenty of optimism in Houston, with James Harden even boldly claiming that this is “the year” for them. Head Coach Mike D’Antoni, meanwhile, said he thinks “they have a serious chance.”
Moreover, who could forget Capela’s statement last January when he claimed they are “better” than Golden State? Now that’s real confidence!