Why we should be optimistic about the Houston Rockets’ title hopes

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Houston Rockets

Houston Rockets Russell Westbrook James Harden (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)

With the Houston Rockets having reached the midway point of the season, they’ve given Rockets Nation a reason to be optimistic about their title chances.

The new-look Houston Rockets have another opportunity to capture the elusive championship they’ve been pursuing for the last few years, with this year being arguably their best chance yet.  There are many reasons for this, but one of the main reasons is how the playing field in the Western Conference has been more even than it has been for the past few seasons.

While still currently in the middle of the pack in the West, the Rockets have quite a few things going for them that should give them an advantage when it comes to playoff time. Here are just a few of the reasons H-Town should be excited about the team’s chances this year.

Learned Lessons

Every year since the 2016-17 season when Mike D’Antoni began coaching the Houston Rockets, there has been a playoff shortcoming to go along with it. With every shortcoming, there is a lesson to be learned, and D’Antoni has had plenty to learn from. In his first season in Houston, the Rockets were defeated in humiliating fashion by the San Antonio Spurs in six games during the Western Conference Semifinals.

That year, the Rockets were eliminated on their home floor by a final score of 114-75. The lesson for D’Antoni to learn was that James Harden had too much responsibility to create the majority of the plays while also shouldering a huge scoring load. Having such responsibility ultimately wore him down and resulted in arguably the worst playoff performance of his career in Game 6. This caused Harden to score a series-low 10 points, which led to the Rockets losing by 39 points despite Kawhi Leonard not even playing in the game.

The Rockets acted quickly on this, responding with a blockbuster trade that acquired Chris Paul and sent a large haul to the Clippers. When it was all said and done, the Clippers landed Lou Williams, Patrick Beverley, Sam Dekker, DeAndre Liggins, Darrun Hillard, Kyle Wiltjer, Montrezl Harrell, a top-three-protected 2018 first-round pick and cash considerations. Adding Chris Paul to take the pressure off of Harden produced amazing results in the 2017-18 season, as they won 65 games in the regular season, which gave them the best record in the league.

The playoffs were successful as well, so much to the point that the Rockets were up 3-2 over the defending champion Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals and had them on the brink. That series shifted, though, when Chris Paul suffered a hamstring injury in Game 5, as he didn’t play another game in the series, and the rest is history. The only lesson here was to make sure that Chris Paul was well-rested and healthy for the postseason.

The following season, the Rockets got off to a rocky start but finished with 53 wins to put themselves in a position to compete for a championship once again, although they weren’t able to recapture the magic. This version of the team never exactly clicked like the team from the previous season, and there are several different theories as to the reason why that included Chris Paul’s aging and the losses of Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute. The Rockets responded by trading Chris Paul after two years with the team and acquiring a younger, more durable player in Russell Westbrook.

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