New Year, New Power Rankings: Rockets in the Top Four

Dec 31, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets forward Ryan Anderson (3) celebrates a made basket against the New York Knicks during the fourth quarter at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 31, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets forward Ryan Anderson (3) celebrates a made basket against the New York Knicks during the fourth quarter at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports /

After going undefeated in the last week of 2016, the Rockets are undeniably elite. Nearly every pundit would agree that it isn’t a fluke anymore.

In a season where the Houston Rockets were expected to hover around .500, they’re on pace to win more than 60 games. Under Mike D’Antoni‘s leadership, the Rockets are a completely different team than the one that suited up last year. James Harden is back to being an MVP candidate and Houston is fun again.

It’s easy for me to be biased, but even national pundits argue that the Rockets are back to title contention. As we started 2017, many outlets released their first power rankings of the new year. In an unsurprising turn of events, nobody has Houston ranked lower than fourth.

All power rankings are just opinions, but perhaps no person’s NBA thoughts carry more weight than that of ESPN’s Marc Stein, who put the Rockets behind only last year’s Finals teams:

. ESPN. 3. 169. “In the bigger picture — with James Harden doing too many crazy things to stuff into this section – Houston just went 15-2 in December to solidify its status as a top-five team no one saw coming. Amid all the triple-double focus on Russell Westbrook, Harden had five of his own in December.”.’s John Schuhmann ranked Houston at 4th, but also named them the Hero Team of the Week:

“Harden is on pace to crush the record for most assists on 3-pointers and now Eric Gordon is on pace to become the second player in history with 300 threes in a season. Despite injuries to Clint Capela and Patrick Beverley, the Houston offense is rolling, but the Rockets play eight January games (most in the league) against top-10 defenses, starting with a visit from the Thunder on Thursday.”. . . 4. 169

In what seems like a backhanded compliment, Jeremy Woo of Sports Illustrated felt the need to note that the Knicks aren’t a good defensive team, as if anybody should be able to put up 52-17-16 on them. Still, he gave the Houston Rockets the respect of ranking them fourth:

4. 169. “James Harden’s 53-point, 17-assist, 16-rebound stat line against New York almost gave me a heart attack on New Year’s Eve, but it’s also a reminder that there are like five legitimately good defensive teams in the NBA. Full credit to Harden, but the Knicks are not one of them.”. . . Sports Illustrated

Grant Hughes of Bleacher Report ranked the Rockets fourth (a common trend, it seems) and noted that their lighthearted play against the Suns last week was a sign of an elite group:

“During the second quarter of the Houston Rockets’ 131-115 Monday walkover win against the Phoenix Suns, they turned the ball over on five straight possessions—which, among other things, means Houston has officially reached the point at which it just messes around against inferior competition. … Goofing around without fear of reprisal from an overmatched foe is something only elite teams get away with.”. . . Bleacher Report. 4. 169

To wrap things up, Gerald Bourguet of Hoops Habit ranked Houston at (you guessed it) fourth. He noted James Harden’s historic triple-double, but also acknowledged the fact that other players have stepped up as well:

169. “Harden tied Wilt Chamberlain for the most points scored in a triple-double, became the first player in NBA history to drop a 50-15-15 line, recorded back-to-back triple-doubles this week and tied his career-high for assists with 17. With all of that to digest, we barely have room to mention Montrezl Harrell‘s career-high 29 points against the Clippers or that unruly incident between Trevor Ariza and Salah Mejri.”. . . Hoops Habit. 4

Tonight, the Houston Rockets take on the Washington Wizards and look to extend their current winning streak to five games. More notably, though, is this Thurday’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Both Houston and OKC are fighting for playoff spots, and their superstars are in the midst of the MVP race. That matchup should play a large part in next week’s power rankings.

Next: Harden and His Historic Triple-Double

Follow @SpaceCity_Scoop on Twitter for live updates during tonight’s game and for constant  All-Star votes for James Harden.