Every-Thing Sports

Jermaine Every: The Rockets look unstoppable

James Harden and Chris Paul have the Rockets rolling. Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Rockets made easy work of the Utah Jazz in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals, 110-96. James Harden led with 41 points, distributed seven assists and contributed eight rebounds.  

Wasn’t this Jazz team widely considered one of, if not the hottest team heading to the playoffs? Didn’t they just “upset” the OKC Thunder? Isn’t Donovan Mitchell the “it” rookie? The Rockets’ first-round opponent, the Minnesota Timberwolves, would have been a No. 3 or 4 seed until Jimmy Butler got hurt and missed 20-plus games down the stretch.  

Without question, and you can look it up, the Rockets are the best team in the Association. Harden unquestionably is a lock for MVP. General Manager Daryl Morey’s trade for Chris Paul has worked to a T. Less celebrated acquisitions like PJ Tucker, Luc Mbah a Moute, and even lesser Gerald Green have provided dependable bench depth to a tightened playoff rotation.

The offense has been able to overcome infrequent subpar performances from its best scorers. Harden, Chris Paul, Clint Capela, and Eric Gordon all have hard off-nights. Yet this team has found ways to win. People lost their minds in Game 1 against Minnesota when Paul foundered and the Rockets narrowly won by 3. They’ve also won games when Harden struggled, like he did in Game 2 against the Timberwolves. Capela was the leading scorer in Game 5 of that series. When Harden, Paul and Capela played together this season … 46-4.

Offense may be their calling card, but defense is where the Rockets improved most this season. Tucker and Mbah a Moute brought defensive versatility and intensity. Paul, a former All-Defensive mainstay, turned up pressure in the backcourt. Capela has matured into an above-average rim protector. Gone are the days when Trevor Ariza was the only stopper. Heck, even Harden got into the defense act.

The real challenge will come in the inevitable Conference Finals showdown against the Golden State Warriors.  Can the Rockets beat the defending NBA champions?

Some emphatically say no. I tentatively say yes. Both teams have offenses that tilt the scoreboard with ease. Both teams can play good defense and can win low-scoring games. However, both have Achilles heels that can be exploited.

The Warriors turn the ball over too often, which can lead to more brain farts. The Rockets stars are prone to poor shooting nights. We’ve have sneak peeks at “Elimination James” and “Playoff Chris” already this postseason. So far, the Rockets have succeeded despite these potential landmines.

It will come down to health and role players. The Rockets have been more fortunate than the Warriors in the health department. Steph Curry’s knee is just rounding into playing shape. The Rockets have a decisive bench advantage. Who’d you rather? Nick “Swaggy P” Young or Eric Gordon? Keven Looney or Mbah a Moute? You see where I’m going with this? The Rockets’ bench every time.

Right hand raised, yes, I believe the Rockets will defeat the Warriors. That’s not delusion or fanboy talking. The Warriors are an all-time great team. They have the firepower to overcome any pitfall, any team in their path. But, and this is a bigger but than Kim Kardashian’s, the Rockets are catching the Warriors in a vulnerable state. The Rockets have caught lightning in a bottle. The Warriors are ready to be had.

 

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Rockets get another much-needed win. Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images.

The Houston Rockets went on a redemption tour by beating the Detroit Pistons and Dallas Mavericks. But the most pivotal win was against the Mavericks as the Rockets finally showed their true potential. John Wall finally made his return from his injury hiatus and played with a lot of energy. DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Gordon combined for 61 points. It was great to see Stephan Silas crack a smile as he was able to beat his former team.

The Rockets clearly missed Wall during his eight-game absense. This season, the Rockets are a .500 team with Wall on the court. Wall is the Rockets' floor general that leads, constructs, and also pushes his teammates to become better.

Wall only played 21 minutes in the 133-108 win over the Mavericks but still had eight assists. Even though Wall only had 7 points, his presence was still felt by finding his teammates for open looks beyond the perimeter. Wall made sure Cousins and Gordon got a plethora of touches. He called multiple actions, so they got open looks from three, which was mainly Gordon. Gordon and Cousins' struggles have been similar but with Wall on the court, they were successful against the Mavericks. According to NBA Stats, Wall posted a 111 offensive rating with the starters versus the Mavericks, which included Gordon and Cousins.

"He's the engine to this team. He gets everybody going. He makes the game easy," Cousins told a reporter after the game. "The pressure that he constantly puts on the defense is a tough thing to deal with."

Gordon has struggled all season long with three-point shooting and relied on his slashing abilities. Saturday night, Gordon made six three pointers against the Mavericks, which was 66 percent from beyond the perimeter. Gordon increased his three-point percentage from 31 percent to 34.5 percent after Saturday night's game. Gordon's 33 points came from being able to attack the entire Mavericks' defense. Willy Cauley-Stein didn't stand a chance against Gordon as he was burned multiple times. Gordon's been a lifesaver for the Rockets in the last two games, and hopefully he maintains his play.

Cousins played fantastic against the Mavericks scoring 28 points and grabbing 17 rebounds. This is Cousins' first double-double with the Rockets this season. Cousins became the vintage player from the New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings. It was extremely fun watching Cousins push the ball up the court and aggressively snatch rebounds. Boogie shot 50 percent from behind the arc by making four three-pointers. He was dominant inside the paint as Cousins went 7/8 from the restricted area versus the Mavericks. This was the game Cousins needed after having a poor performance against the Pistons Friday night.

"It was really, really good. He did it all. He's a physical presence on both ends of the floor," as Silas said on Cousins' performance.

David Nwaba and Mason Jones were big factors off the Rockets' bench by having a combined total of 34 points together. Nwaba has been great in transition for the Rockets the entire season. Keep in mind that Nwaba is returning from an Achilles injury he suffered with his former team, the Brooklyn Nets. Nwaba has became a great defender, slasher, and is averaging a career-high nine points per game with the Rockets. He finished with 18 points on Saturday night versus the Mavericks.

Mason Jones has become a fan favorite of the Rockets because of his confidence. Silas is loving the usage of Jones off the bench but wants to find more minutes for him. Jones had a breakout performance versus the San Antonio Spurs with 24 points off 66 percent shooting from the field. He continues to get better with his reads from the point guard position. Jones' knowledge of running the offense has helped his efficiency on the court. He is never afraid to take clutch shots in pivotal moments of the game.

"To have a young kid who can come in and not be afraid of the moment, that's big. That's a tough position to be in as an undrafted rookie. I trust him. It's a good problem to have," Silas mentioned after the game. "He's showing me he's ready. He's a confident kid, and he should be. That's why he's good. He's not afraid of the moment, at all. He can get us organized, run plays, and score the basketball."

Hopefully, the Rockets can sustain their level of play when Victor Oladipo returns against the Washington Wizards, Tuesday. It will be interesting to watch Oladipo and Wall play in the same backcourt.

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