The Houston Rockets are making a case for not only the best team in the Western Conference but the NBA as a whole. With the recent issues facing the San Antonio Spurs and the Golden State Warriors, the time is now for James Harden to lead the charge.
As the NBA enters its final stretch we will start to see teams make that all important push for playoff position. But, this is where the Rockets have the advantage over the rest of the teams except the Cleveland Cavaliers. It’s simple if you look at it. The last two NBA Finals were teams that had experience and chemistry. The Spurs were old, the Los Angeles Clippers were injured, the Celtics were too young and the Toronto Raptors had no help.
Things are different in 2017.
The Cavs are still the top dawg in the Eastern Conference but how much energy have they wasted in making two straight trips? The same can be said for the Warriors and their bunch. Now, you add the Kevin Durant injury to the equation and the Warriors are no longer the heavy favorites. Can Kawhi Leonard carry the Spurs on his back without LaMarcus Aldridge and a tired looking Pau Gasol and no real perimeter threat? The Clippers are healthy but when has that gotten them anywhere?
Out in the East, the Celtics did not make the move needed to be real playoff contenders when they failed to trade for a defensive presence in the post. Isaiah Thomas is good but what happens when defenses begin to hound him when everything is on the line? The regular season is one thing but the playoffs are a different beast. The Raptors are worried about Kyle Lowry and even when he returns, can he and DeMar DeRozan forget their horrid shooting performance from last season?
This is where the Rockets will stand above the rest of the competition.
This team was built to run and score, and while their attention to defense is not as good as the Cavs or the Spurs, their lineup is the most dangerous. Harden is MVP candidate all the way but how can we forget the contributions of Trevor Ariza, Patrick Beverly, Nene, and Eric Gordon? The Rockets are just as explosive as the Warriors and Cavs.
The Warriors are a perimeter team with no stable post game. Players like Ryan Anderson, Clint Capella, and Nene can man the paint while sharp-shooters like Harden, Lou Williams, Ariza, and Gordon will have a field day on the perimeter. With Mike D’Antoni’s system, there is no team that can keep up with them. The Warriors have a shot but their legs are showing strong signs of fatigue. The Clippers are mobile but they develop a mental block after the regular season. The Celtics are young and can run but they rely on one player too much.
All that leaves are the Cavs. As great as their big 3 is, they may be dealing with the same issues that the Warriors are. And with Cleveland signing every available player during the trade deadline, chemistry and a shortened bench may come back to haunt them.
The Rockets are for real. The pieces are in place for Harden and crew to make a Warriors-like run.