The Houston Rockets are playing better than anyone predicted, and that has several people within the organization leading their prospective award races.
Pundits said that the Rockets should have hired a defensive-minded head coach. They thought Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon were overpaid. James Harden was said to be a bad leader, incapable of taking his team deep into the playoffs on his own. Most predictions had Houston finishing around .500 again, fighting for the last playoff spot.
Despite riding through a rough two-week stretch, the Rockets sit cleanly at third in the Western Conference, outplaying even the most optimistic preseason assumptions. Mike D’Antoni has unleashed a side of the Beard that not many fans thought could exist. James Harden leads the NBA in assists and is knocking on the door of the scoring title. Coming off the bench for the first time in his career, Eric Gordon trails only Steph Curry in made threes.
It’s safe to say that things are going pretty well in Houston, at least for the moment. If the Rockets continue their high level of play, they’ll be rewarded with lots of hardware.
Houston Rockets news and notes from around the web
The NBA staff at Bleacher Report came out with their predictions for the seven major postseason awards. Spoiler alert: the Rockets are mentioned a lot. According to their analysis, Harden, Gordon, and D’Antoni will all come away with trophies. Obviously, the Larry O’Brien trophy is the most important one to win, but a few morale boosters wouldn’t hurt Houston’s chances in free agency.
"What D’Antoni has done—and brilliantly, at that—is retool his signature spread pick-and-roll scheme to suit Harden’s skills as a scorer, driver and distributor and deploy the Rockets’ rollers and shooters to pitch-perfect effect. He turned Harden loose as the squad’s full-time point guard, and Clutch City has reaped the rewards."
Because of the Rockets’ unforeseen success, the likelihood that GM Daryl Morey makes any midseason trades is not as high as usual. In an interview with Alex Kennedy of HoopsHype, he credited Harden’s work ethic and drive as a motivator for the team’s winning record.
"“James is the most motivated player to improve that I’ve ever had,” Morey said. “Starting in year one, his priority in his first offseason with us four years ago was to improve his right hand. He came in and his right hand was dramatically improved. This offseason, he really said, ‘I’m going to take a step forward as a guy who is more vocal, who is leading the team.’ With Dwight choosing Atlanta, he knew he had to step up. He talked to different people around the league and really took a step forward this year as a leader. That was a big priority for him.”"
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For the first time in his career, James Harden will start in the All-Star game. While he is happy about his nomination, he believes he isn’t the only Rocket who should be on the team. According to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle, Harden thought Gordon deserved an All-Star nod. He didn’t end up making the cut, but will likely participate in the three-point contest as a consolation.
"“Before the season, they expected us to be eighth or ninth in the West, 10th in the West,” Harden said. “We’re third with a chance to be second or first. Obviously, I’m not doing it alone. Eric Gordon is the second-leading scorer. He’s top … in 3-pointers made. He’s doing it at an extremely high level. You can’t overlook that.”"
Clearly, the Rockets are doing a lot of things right. They’re winning basketball games and the public’s approval. The All-Star break can’t come soon enough though, considering their recent struggles. A period of rest could be exactly what the doctor ordered for Houston.
As I said earlier, the Rockets’ ultimate goal is winning an NBA title. However, the fact that they have the media’s attention and respect is nice. That hasn’t been the case in recent years, and, frankly, I’ll take what I can get.
Tonight, the Beard and company will travel to Philadelphia to take on Joel Embiid and the 76ers. He may be more motivated than ever because he didn’t make the All-Star team. Therefore, Houston will have to bring its A-game.