The Houston Rockets are red hot and climbing up the Western Conference standings after yet another impressive string of wins against some of the best in the league during this past holiday week.
The week began with a Christmas Day showdown that included the previous two league MVP winners as well as saw the Houston Rockets debut of newly acquired guard Austin Rivers.
Austin Rivers made an impressive impact in his first appearance with the team as he was tasked with guarding Russell Westbrook when he was on the floor and played a big role in holding him to one point in the fourth quarter. Rivers also knocked down two huge 3s that helped Houston stay ahead of Oklahoma City and hang on to win 113-109.
Thursday night saw last year’s runner-up in the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics, come into town, and the game became a duel between Kyrie Irving and James Harden.
Once again the Beard put on a show for the national audience as he scored 45 points on the league’s fourth-best defensive rated team and Clint Capela finished just a rebound short of what would have been his third straight 20-20 game in terms of points and rebounds.
Saturday night was a homecoming for Eric Gordon and Austin Rivers as they returned to New Orleans. Houston was looking for revenge from opening night when the Pelicans went into Toyota Center and embarrassed them on their own court.
The fans in attendance at the Smoothie King Center were witness to yet another extraordinary performance by James Harden as he finished with 41 points and nine rebounds while shooting 41.2% from the three.
The Rockets won their fourth straight game and have won nine out of their last ten games as they are now only 3.5 games behind the number one seed Denver Nuggets!
A look back…
A couple of weeks ago, Houston’s depth seemed very thin, and the injury to James Ennis just made it worse. Houston then lost Chris Paul in Miami, and the recent success for Houston appeared to be in danger of regressing again.
The Rockets were previously 0-5 without Paul in the lineup and were finally able to pick up their first win without him against San Antonio. Despite the win, it was clear that Brandon Knight was not ready to contribute at a high level yet, and Houston was in desperate need of a guard, so Houston signed Austin Rivers.
Since joining the Rockets, Rivers is averaging about 33 minutes a game which is the fifth highest on the team behind Harden, Capela, Tucker, and Gordon.
The addition of Rivers makes what seemed a weakness a couple of weeks ago a strength for Houston, with Ennis due to return soon, the Rockets will have plenty of players that can contribute immediately. Gordon did suffer a knee injury in the win against the Pelicans, so that depth may be put on hold as it seems to be the story of the season for Houston.
The reason the Rockets should begin to garner fear around the Western Conference again is that Houston is 7-3 against Western Conference opponents in the month of December which is the best record in the league in that stretch. The Rockets have not played Phoenix either, so every team they have beat is active in the very early playoff race and is not a “easy win”.
Overall, Houston has won nine out of their last 10 games and seven out of those 10 teams are at or above .500.
The Rockets have been fueled behind the reigning league MVP James Harden who finished the week averaging 42.3 points a game with 5.7 rebounds and 6.3 assists and led Houston to a perfect week (3-0). Is he a shoe-in for Player of the Week once again?
With Memphis and Golden State due up next, Houston will continue to be tested in the wild west. These games will be the perfect opportunity for the Houston Rockets to make a huge statement that they are still a force to be reckoned with.