Jan 27, 2017; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Houston Rockets forward Trevor Ariza (1) and guard James Harden (13) and guard Patrick Beverley (2) slap hands after a score against the Philadelphia 76ers during the fourth quarter at Wells Fargo Center. The Houston Rockets won123-118. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Article continues below ...
The Houston Rockets have underwhelmed as a whole the past couple of seasons, despite making it to the Western Conference Finals two seasons ago. It seems like this year, however, could be the year that they make it to the NBA Finals.
The Houston Rockets (40-17) haven’t been to an NBA Finals since the 1994-95 season but they finally have the pieces around superstar James Harden to make a Finals run.
The Rockets have been consistent in making the playoff the previous four seasons, but they’ve only gotten past the opening round once in that time span.
They’ve been lacking role players that can actually produce. This is the year that they can finally not only make an NBA Finals, but have a fighting shot at bringing H-Town a championship that is long overdue.
Harden is having an absolutely incredible season after moving to the point guard position in the offseason under first year head coach Mike D’Antoni.
Feb 11, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) and teammates celebrate against the Phoenix Suns in the second half at Toyota Center. Houston Rockets won 133 to 102 .Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports
Simply put, James Harden is the catalyst for the Rockets’ success this season. From beginning to end, he has been on a mission to not just make it out of the Western Conference but win a championship.
He is too good of a player not to get a shot at an NBA Finals. This is the year that all of the pieces are falling together and making the Rockets a championship contender. He is capable of single-handedly putting an organization on his back and will them to wins.
The MVP front-runner shows no signs of slowing up. He’s averaging a career-high 29.1 points per game (third in NBA) while notching a career-high 11.3 assists per game, which happens to lead the league. Oh, let’s not forget that he’s averaging 8.2 rebounds per game as well.
Not a bad stat line from top to bottom.
The point guard transition has proven seamless. He has showcased his unbelievable court vision this season, something that we’ve seen glimpses of here and there in his previous seven years.
First-year head coach Mike D’Antoni saw something in Harden that has been one of the main reasons for their success.
He is having an unbelievable season, but stats won’t mean much if they can’t make it to an NBA Finals. However, based on what the Rockets have proven this year, it seems like they might have found a winning formula and an NBA championship might be on the horizon.
Jan 17, 2017; Miami, FL, USA; Houston Rockets guard Patrick Beverley (2) prepares to shoot the ball as Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic (7) defends during the first half at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Productivity From The Bench
The bench has done more than step up for the Rockets this year. They’ve stepped up in big moments throughout the year and, if the Rockets hope to continue to have success, they will need to continue to play solid basketball these next few months.
Patrick Beverley is the leading scorer off the bench, averaging 9.7 points per outing. Never known for his scoring, Beverley is as solid as they come when it comes to a two-way point guard.
Looked at by some as a dirty player, Beverley gives it his all on the defensive end which will ultimately prove to be valuable in the long run.
Sam Dekker has also blossomed before our very eyes. The second year rookie is finding his role in the high powered offense. He is fitting the mold nicely and is turning in to the player that everyone saw at Wisconsin.
Averaging only 7.4 points per game this season, his 47.6 percent shooting from the floor shows how productive he can be and with his size and athleticism, Dekker is a matchup nightmare for a small forward. He brings the type of energy that Beverley brings on a nightly basis.
The bigs off the bench are also showing up. Nene and Montrezl Harrell have been great backups for rising center Clint Capela. Averaging 8.1 and 9.6 points per game respectively, the bench production from the center position has been solid as well.
Heading down the stretch, bench play plays such a massive role in postseason success. It will be a storyline to follow heading in to April as to whether the Rockets bench can continue it’s success.
Jan 5, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets center Nene Hilario (42) gets a pat on the back from Houston Rockets guard Eric Gordon (10) after making the winning foul shot to defeat the Oklahoma City Thunder in the second half at Toyota Center. Houston Rockets won 118 to 116 .Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports
The key offseason acquisitions of Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson and Nene have proven to be more valuable than the Rockets could have ever imagined.
Gordon is having a resurgent season after falling under the radar the past few seasons. He is averaging a solid 17.3 points per game and filling the shooting guard position perfectly for the Rockets.
He has been a great addition for the Rockets after moving Harden to the point guard position and looking for the shooting guard position to be filled with production.
Along with Gordon’s presence on the court this year, Ryan Anderson has been another huge piece of the puzzle. His ability to stretch the floor has made the Rockets offense even more dynamic. Harden can drive amongst the best of them but also find teammates too.
This is where Anderson steps in. He’s been knocking down 40.3 percent of his three-point attempts this season which is key. The Rockets are a live-by-the-three, die-by-the-three type of team, so shooting 40-plus percent from three has proven huge.
Nene has been an enormous add as well. It’s safe to say the Rockets knew what they were doing this offseason.
Nene has started a handful of games this season during Clint Capela’s absence but has come off the bench for most of the season. He hasn’t dazzled anyone with his numbers but he’s doing exactly what the Rockets need him to do.
His 8.2 points, 3.8 rebounds and 0.6 blocks per game don’t jump out at you. But his rim presence and leadership has been what the Rockets have looked for and needed this year.
Veteran leadership goes a long way in the postseason so look for the Rockets to stay disciplined heading down the final stretch of the regular season.
Nov 27, 2016; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) drives to the basket on Houston Rockets forward Trevor Ariza (1) during the fourth quarter of the game at the Moda Center at the Rose Quarter. The Rockets won 130-114. Mandatory Credit: Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports
Defense Wins Championships
On paper, the Rockets aren’t the most lockdown team in the league, but it seems like they do just enough to get the job done.
Trevor Ariza is the defensive anchor for the Rockets and has been since joining the team in 2014. He’s always been known for his defensive ability and his length can be trouble for opposing offenses.
Ariza is currently third in the NBA in steals per game (1.93) and has averaged more than 1.5 steals or more per game eight of his last nine seasons.
Aside from Ariza, Rockets fans might be surprised to see whose name shows up next amongst the team.
James Harden. Yeah, you read that right. Harden and Beverley are currently tied for second most steals on the team at 1.49 per game. Again, none of these numbers are eye-popping any which way you look at it, but it’s the team effort that makes them a contender.
Perimeter defense has stepped up this season as the Rockets are holding opponents to 35.1 percent from the perimeter which ranks them tied for sixth in the league. Along with shooting percentage, the Rockets tip passes and get steals at an impressive rate too.
Averaging 8.3 steals per game as a team, the Rockets are tied for seventh in the league there as well. It’s impressive to see the Rockets so successful for still allowing 107.8 points per game but they are third in the league in point differential.
A plus-6.7 point differential has them ranked only behind Golden State and San Antonio. No surprise there as the Rockets are having to fight an uphill battle all season and postseason to even get out of the West.
Defense wins championships and this year the Rockets can’t rely solely on their offensive prowess to win them a championship.
Feb 3, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Chicago Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg reacts from the sideline during the third quarter against the Houston Rockets at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Shakeup Atop The West
It just seems like another team is due to win the West. The past four seasons have seen the same two champions.
San Antonio and Golden State have occupied the Western Conference throne since the 2012-13 season, but it just seems like another contender is due. The Houston Rockets are that contender.
The Rockets are kind of like the little brother in the Western Conference, always on the outside looking in. With the solid talent around Harden and him having an MVP-like season, it’s hard to think the Rockets can’t seriously contend this year.
James Harden is too good not to win a championship in his career. It’s as simple as that. He has needed help in the past and this year, seems to have the pieces around him to make a run. The starters are playing well. The bench is solid and Harden is unconscious.
With just two and a half months left in the season, the Rockets can’t let up. They need a strong finish to stay within striking distance of that two spot in the West.
It’s almost set in stone that the Warriors will win the West. but the second spot is wide open right now after the Rockets have won their last two games. while the Spurs have split their last two.
Winning the West is no easy feat but again, it is definitely doable. It seems like a no or never kind of mentality this season for the Rockets and Harden. It will definitely be an interesting race heading into the latter part of the season, but don’t be surprised to see H-Town in the Finals.