Entering the 2018-19 season, the expectation for the Houston Rockets was sky-high, but after unforeseeable major injuries to key players, and disappointing production from the new players, the Rockets find themselves in fifth place in the Western Conference as they have gone through a very eventful season.
The season began with the excitement surrounding the acquisition of Carmelo Anthony, but that honeymoon period lasted less than a few weeks into the season as 10 games in, Anthony and the Houston Rockets agreed to part ways.
Anthony’s offensive production was not the issue with Houston (Anthony averaged 13.4 on an effective field goal percentage of 49.2%) but with a disagreement in defensive philosophy and fit, and the Rockets under .500, there was no chance to try and iron out the imperfections.
December came, and the Rockets were still struggling to win on a consistent basis. The most frustrating loss came early in the month in Dallas when Houston was winning by eight points with around two minutes left in the game, and Houston had a complete meltdown as Luka Doncic took over down the stretch and won the game for the Mavericks.
After the loss, Houston was sitting at 11-14 and was in 14th place in the Western Conference.
This loss, however, served as a turning point for Houston as the following week, James Harden‘s “Unguardable Tour” began.
On a Thursday night game against the Los Angeles Lakers, Harden erupted with a 50 point triple-double which marked the beginning of The Beard’s streak of scoring at least 30 points in each game he played in.
December also saw the injury of Chris Paul which sidelined him for 17 games and led to the acquisition of Austin Rivers. Despite losing Paul, Houston finished the month a perfect 5-0 as Harden scored 39, 41, 45, 41, and 43 points in each game.
January started off with an awe-inspiring performance from the reigning league MVP as Harden scored 44 points and had the incredible game-winner over the outstretched arms of Klay Thompson and Draymond Green at the Oracle Arena.
Houston’s comeback win against the defending champions was a signature moment that highlighted how James Harden had been willing the Rockets back atop the Western Conference standings.
In that game, Harden not only hit the game winner but hit multiple three-pointers just to force the overtime period after Houston was getting trounced for most of the game.
Despite the amazing start to the month, Houston saw themselves facing even more adversity as Eric Gordon missed eight games and then Clint Capela suffered an injury to his thumb which has kept him sidelined for 15 games, and led to the signing of Kenneth Faried.
During the 15 games Capela has missed, the Rockets have been 29th in the league in rebounding, and have had a huge part of their offense missing as James Harden and Clint Capela are still currently the best assister-shooter duo through 54 games (Harden and Capela have only played in 39) as the Harden-Capela combo has accounted for 147 field goals which is 20 more than the league’s second best.
To add on top of the injuries, Danuel House Jr., who had been a bright spot for the Rockets and is currently on a two-way contract, entered into a dispute with Houston as he reached his 45-day limit in the NBA, and Houston has not been able to reach an agreement on a new deal.
Houston has wanted to lock up House on a multi-year deal while House’s camp has been persistent on a one year deal which has led to the disagreement.
With Markieff Morris deciding to sign with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston may feel more inclined to reach an agreement soon as they are in desperate need of size and wing play.
The Rockets are currently sitting at 33-24 and are one game behind the Portland Trailblazers for fourth place.
In the final 25 games, 17 of those games will be against teams who currently are in the hunt to make the playoffs, and 12 of those games will involve teams that are currently over .500.
Clint Capela is expected to make his return the first game back, which is desperately needed for Houston.
The Rockets begin the final stretch of the season with a tough game in Los Angeles against a Lakers team that is in need of wins to keep their playoff hopes alive and then have to play the Golden State Warriors in Oakland.
Houston’s most difficult stretch will occur between March 3rd and March 13th when they will have to face the Celtics, the Raptors, the 76ers, and the Warriors in that span.
Houston needs to go 17-8 to reach 50 wins, which emphasizes how far Houston is from last year’s marker.
Again most of it is due to injury, and these final 25 games will be crucial for the Rockets as they need to stay healthy to get a sense of how good they can be when they are 100 percent.
Harden, Capela, and Paul have rarely been available at the same time this season (the Rockets are 16-7 in games that the trio have played in start to finish). If Houston can end the season strong, they will have some momentum heading into the postseason, and a healthy Rockets team is not one anyone will want to meet in the first round.