Recently NBA.com ran a feature where they polled analysts and contributors as to who they believed was the second best team in both the Western and Eastern Conference. While the East unanimously favoured head coach Dwane Casey’s Toronto Raptors, there was a split among the group about who could claim second in the West behind Golden State.
San Antonio and L.A. Clippers both received votes of praise, there is one team that caught us a bit off guard. The Houston Rockets currently sit tied with the Clippers for 3rd in the West, just 2.0 games behind San Antonio for 2nd, 3.5 back of 1st place Golden State.
We assumed that the chemistry would be a bit better with Dwight Howard gone from the locker room. However, we did not see James Harden being this prolific, with a supporting cast in year one under head coach Mike D’Antoni. Houston is in the midst of a 8 game winning streak which was kindled with a double overtime win of the Warriors. With the narrowest margin of victory , a 1 point win over the Celtics during the streak, Houston has managed to pour it on most of their opponents over this winning stretch.
The defence is still giving up an average over the 8 games of 105 points given up, but when you run a ‘7 seconds or less offence’ that is the result of such a high tempo O. Houston leads the NBA in attempted 3’s with 978, 124 more than GS if you’re curious. The Cavs fall behind at 36.3% for second in that category. The 3 also makes up 38.5 percent of the Rockets points so far this season, accounting for the 120.7 points for during this 8 game stretch. Most interesting is that fact that team is dead last in 3-point field goals made off of assist percentage (77.9), yet are first in 3 pointers made unassisted percentage (22.1).
We have feeling that the credit for that last stat is likely because of the bearded one, James Harden pulling up for 3 upon arriving in the orbit of the arc. While Harden is 4th on the points per game list (28.1), he LEADS the association in assists per game (11.6) with opponents trying to force his teammates to make their shots than let Harden get his. In turn Harden leads the NBA in passes received (83.2) perhaps as reward for spreading the wealth and trusting his teammates to take the open shot.
While Harden and his beard are the main attraction, lets spread the love a bit with some praise to some of the other contributors. Clint Capela leads the team banging on the glass with 8.3 boards a game, good enough to put him 22 in the league in that category. Nene is clearly not the same player that he was at 31 playing power forward for Washington than he is at 34 playing the 5 spot for the Rockets. With Montrezl Harrell gaining more minutes a night, Houston is not going to become a defensive standout, but if they can approach the realm of being decent on that end of the floor then they’ll have accomplished a feat that D’Antoni teams repeatedly struggle to accomplish, with his Steve Nash led Suns team being the exception.
Both forwards Trevor Ariza and Ryan Anderson are capable of knocking a shot down away from the basket, easing the pressure off of Harden, but there aren’t too many shots that would be off-limits. Power forward Donatas Montiejunas is no longer the problem of the team after GM Daryl Morey announced the unconditional release. With turmoil and ill will ushered from the franchise, the focus is left to turn back to the hardwood.
Will the Rockets be able to outscore their opponents each and every night. Based on the streak and first half of the season, the answer is a resounding YES! When it comes to the home stretch, jockeying for home court advantage in the playoffs, we wonder if the team will be able to keep the pace up. A bad night from beyond the arc, lack of contribution from players that don’t have 13 on their back will see Houston bounced early.
As with most prognostications you have to see it play out. At this moment however, Houston has become one of the more entertaining squads to watch on a game-by-game basis. League Pass approved.