The Houston Rockets are the hottest team in the NBA after winning 10 of their last 11 games. Their one loss came on the road to the Golden State Warriors in overtime. The Rockets firing on all cylinders is an understatement.
During this 11 game stretch the Rockets have wins over the San Antonio Spurs, Dallas Mavericks, and two over the Phoenix Suns. Results vs. the Suns provide evidentiary example of the Rockets improvement throughout the season. In the first meeting the Rockets lost at home scoring only 88 points. In the following two meetings the Rockets averaged 118.5 points. Recognizing a 30-point turnaround from December to February.
If the playoffs started today each of the aforementioned opponents would qualify for the playoffs. Fortunately for the Rockets there is another month of regular season basketball. Time to move up the rankings and usurp the two seed from the Spurs or the one seed from the Thunder. Houston is four games back of first place and a loss away from fifth place. The race for a west one seed is tighter than a can of sardines. Anything is possible.
James Harden…is more explanation needed on the Rockets success? Probably, the hyperbole was meant to resonate his value. Harden has averaged 30 points per game in February. Up from 23 ppg and 24 ppg in January and December. His February three-point percentage is 44.6 and field goal percentage is 48.7. Again, an increase in averages from the previous two months. Using the top 10 point scorers in February as a comparative for Harden’s success, he is tied for fourth in field goal percentage, first in three-point percentage, second in three-pointers made, and first in free throw percentage all while taking the second lowest field goal attempts. Okay, that was a stat stuffing moment, but a necessity to describe the All-Star’s value.
Behind Harden the Rockets “Run and Gun” offense is firing on all cylinders, but an individual player cannot hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy by himself. Daryl Morey, GM of the Rockets, has structured a supporting cast that complements head coach Kevin McHale’s offensive philosophy. Dwight Howard appears to be fully acclimated with his teammates after improving averages month over month. He is a critical rim protector for a team that occasionally struggles on the defensive end at 20th in points allowed per game. Another real difference maker is Chandler Parsons. At 6’9” he is a dangerously athletic slasher in the half court, while having the skilled diversity to pull up for a three on the fast break.
The Rockets play the Clippers at Staples Center tonight in a mirrored matchup. Nearly identical records supported by young All-Stars Harden and Blake Griffin who are currently showcasing their best basketball. Expect a shootout as the Rockets continue firing all cylinders in their opponents open court, while the Clippers second ranked offense does the same. Final prediction is the Rockets cover the spread and lose the game. Howard poses a strong post presence on defense, but not enough to control Griffin and DeAndre Jordan’s aerial attack in a close game that previews the playoffs.
Commentary by Niles Olson
The Big Lead