With a victory over the Indiana Pacers last night, the Houston Rockets find themselves in an unfamiliar position with the legitimate expectations of being title contenders. The Rockets’ struggles against the Pacers were well noted coming into Friday night’s game, with 4 straight losses dating all the way back to last season.
However, this is not the same team from last year or even earlier this season when the Rockets lost by 30 in Indiana in early December. Since January 1st Houston has been the hottest team in the NBA with a record of 21-6, and the Pacers just happened to be a team in the way of the Rockets winning ways.
The test continues however in the NBA’s 82 game schedule however. The Portland Trailblazers (42-20), Oklahoma City Thunder (46-16) , Chicago Bulls (34-28), and Miami Heat (43-16) all are slated to play the Rockets in the next 4 games. 3 of those 4 teams the Rockets have already beaten; but the struggle seems to be the Thunder. Houston has lost to Oklahoma City twice this season, and both times were without all-star point guard Russell Westbrook even suited up.
If the Rockets want to make some real noise not only in the western conference, but in the NBA they need to at worst win the next 3 out of 4 games. James Harden and Dwight Howard look to be in sync now, and getting into playoff form at the right time. Harden averaged 27.9 points for the month of February, and is following that performance up in March by averaging 25 points so far. It’s not just the scoring numbers that have increased as Harden is also adding 8.3 assists per game for the month of March, and is turning into peak form right as playoffs come. Howard’s numbers aren’t too shabby either, the big man is averaging 19.2 points per game and 11 rebounds to go with it. His defense, attitude, leadership and “smile” has the Rockets playing at a level that they aren’t used too. This stretch of games will be a good tune up to get the Rockets prepared for what awaits in late April early May.
As the games get tighter, the possessions get more important, and the expectations arise more and more, the Rockets have to make sure they’re prepared for the journey that awaits. The acquisition of Dwight Howard has done wonders for the Rockets, maybe even surpassed most expectations around the league. The Rockets sit at the 3rd seed in the West, and are on the rise with a 4 game winning streak going into a crucial slate of games. The key? Just keep winning, gelling and executing down the stretch everything will fall into place.