After a slow start to the season, the Houston Rockets have returned to their winning ways. Can they keep playing at this pace?
The Houston Rockets are coming off of a very impressive win against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Christmas Day. After the 113-109 win, the Rockets have now won 7 of their last 8 games. Out of those 7 wins, 6 have come against Western Conference teams (Trail Blazers, Lakers, Grizzlies, Jazz, Spurs, and Thunder). The real question remains: Can this Rockets team keep the wins coming in, and climb to the top of the Western Conference Standings? In this writer’s opinion, the answer to that remains to be seen, but I remain optimistic.
Let’s tackle the obvious… If Chris Paul cannot stay healthy, this team has no chance to do anything of significance in the playoffs (please make reference to Game 6 and 7 of last year’s Western Conference Finals). However, with the addition of Austin Rivers, the team can now afford to not feel rushed to bring back CP3, until he is absolutely ready to come back.
As most Rockets “fans” would like to claim that Paul is now overpaid and on the decline of his career, I disagree with that notion. In the 26 games that he played in, he is averaging 16 points and 8 assists per game. The team was just starting to figure things out in the Miami game when he hurt his hamstring. When he comes back, the rotation featuring him, Harden, Gordon, Rivers, and maybe Knight (unless traded)*, should be more than enough to help sustain this wave of success for the team.
Another obvious reason for optimism for the rest of the season is because of our M.V.P. of the league, James Harden. In his last 10 games, he is averaging over 35 points, nearly 2 steals, 8 assists, and 6 rebounds per game. In the wake of CP3 going down with an injury, Harden has taken his game to a whole new level.
If you took a quick look around the league, there are very few guys that mean as much to their team as Harden does to the Rockets. Although he is questionable to play on Thursday against the Celtics, he understands that without him playing, this team has a very low chance of winning this game. If I know Harden like I think I do, he will be suited up tonight, and he will destroy whoever Brad Stevens decides to put on him.
When you glance at the best teams in the league, they all have 2 things in common: At least 1 superstar, and a dynamite bench unit. If the Rockets roster is completely healthy, the starting 5 would be CP3, Harden, P.J. Tucker, Eric Gordon and Clint Capela. The bench unit features James Ennis, Austin Rivers, Gerald Green, Danuel House Jr., Nene, Gary Clark, and Brandon Knight.
Do we need the bench brigade to have the ability to take over games? No, and this is a good thing for this group of guys. There are no diamonds in the rough which the organization hopes will turn into an All-Star, but the good news is, we do not need that. The group is filled with guys who know their role, and they usually perform it well. The main difference between this year and last year is that it appears that we have added a few younger pieces into the fold (House, Clark, Rivers), and that should allow us not rely so heavily on Harden/CP3.
It would be an understatement to say that the start to the 2018-2019 campaign was not a fun one, but it appears that the team is starting to turn a corner. As it stands today, the Rockets are only 4 games out of 1st place. Keep the faith, and as always, GO ROCKETS!!