3 reasons the Rockets are still the biggest threat to the Warriors
After securing the top seed in the Western Conference and taking the Golden State Warriors to seven games in the Western Conference Finals last season, the Houston Rockets have struggled a little so far this season. The Rockets failing to bring back all of their same roster from last year, namely Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute, fueled discussion regarding this team. A rocky start to the season showed obvious obstacles to replicating the previous year’s success, such as the failed Carmelo Anthony experiment, defensive troubles, and Chris Paul going down with an injury.
The team has been able to bounce back, though. They currently sit as the fifth seed in the West with a record of 26-19, having climbed up from being in 14th at one point earlier in the season. Much of this is due to the efforts of their superstar, James Harden, who has been putting up mind-boggling numbers for the record books. He has scored 30 or more points in 19 straight games. His streak has surpassed those of legends like Kobe Bryant and Elgin Baylor and only sits behind Wilt Chamberlain, who is owner to multiple streaks.
Averaging 35.7 points, 8.5 assists, 6.4 rebounds, 4.9 3s, and 2.1 steals a game, Harden has been willing his team to victories night in and night out. Rallying behind Harden’s superhuman efforts is the only formula the Rockets currently have to win games, as the next three top scorers for the team (Clint Capela, Eric Gordon, and Chris Paul) have all missed, or will miss, serious time while injured.
Despite the challenges ahead of them, the Rockets still remain the best team to challenge the defending champion Golden State Warriors. While many around the league have considered Houston’s window of opportunity shut, here are three reasons why the Rockets are the team the Warriors should be the most worried of facing come playoff time.
3. The field is unproven
Not to discredit the success of the other Western Conference challengers, but teams like the Denver Nuggets (who have been on fire all season long) and the Los Angeles Clippers (who are defying all expectations) have yet to prove they can find success in the postseason. Teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder and Portland Trail Blazers, though rich with experienced players, have yet to make a trip past the second round of the playoffs with their current iterations.
The one team who is a bit of an anomaly in terms of the damage they can do in the playoffs are the Los Angeles Lakers. Though the team is facing hardship without LeBron James on the court, if they enter the playoffs with a red-hot James or find a way to make a big trade prior to the deadline, this could end up being a tough matchup for just about anyone in the conference. Until they prove the league otherwise, though, the Lakers as presently constructed shouldn’t be expected to find easy success in the postseason.
2. They aren’t a finished product
The Rockets have dealt with injury after injury so far this season. Eric Gordon and Chris Paul have both missed over 10 games already this season, while Clint Capela is slated to miss at least four weeks. There is the possibility that Houston may not be at full health with all of their regular rotation players playing together until the end of the regular season. With a team having as many depth concerns as Houston has had this season, having a fully healthy roster could make a huge difference for a team that is still finding success despite injury.
A regular player around the trade deadline and in the buyout market, Daryl Morey and the Rockets are never really finished making moves until right at the last possible minute. They seem to always find a way to add players who either make the team better, or at the very least raise the floor and give the team a little added depth.
Last year, the Rockets brought in Brandan Wright and Joe Johnson in mid-February. The year prior, Houston flipped Corey Brewer and a first-round pick for supreme sixth man Lou Williams at the trade deadline. So far this season, Houston is already set to sign the bought out Kenneth Faried after he clears waivers on Monday, and Austin Rivers was recently acquired after his buyout. There is no way to know what this Houston roster will look like for the postseason until mid-March.
1. They’ve been there
Out of all the teams in the Western Conference, the Rockets are the most experienced in what it takes to beat the Warriors. While other teams had regular-season success, the Rockets were arguably either a Chris Paul hamstring or a few made triples away from toppling the dynastic Warriors team and cutting short their run of NBA Finals appearances.
With ample experience playing Golden State in the playoffs, James Harden (who has faced them in the conference finals twice now) and company know how to play them. They also bring the best style of play to the table needed to challenge the Warriors. With superstars in place and the ability to put up a barrage of 3s at any time, the Rockets have proven they can just about hang with the Warriors better than any other team in the West.
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