Every-Thing Sports

Jermaine Every: The Rockets could actually do this

James Harden actually has help this season. Rockets.com

The Houston Rockets are currently two games in front of the Golden State Warriors for the number one seed in the Western Conference. They also hold the tiebreaker should the two teams end up with the same record. But do people really believe they can win an NBA title?

To do so, they’d have to get passed the Warriors. The Warriors have one of the most loaded rosters in NBA history. They won an NBA record 73 games before they added Kevin Durant. After Durant joined their team, they won another title. The Rockets, on the other hand, lost in the Western Conference Finals the year the Warriors won 73 games and failed miserably last year in the second round of the playoffs versus the San Antonio Spurs.

One of the things that makes this year different is the Rockets’ ability to play defense and have other guys score When James Harden or Chris Paul can’t get it going. No longer is Trevor Ariza the sole defensive stalwart on the team. Luc Mbah A Moute and P.J. Tucker provide the team with other “3 and D” guys, besides Ariza, who can defend multiple positions and hit the three. Eric Gordon has stepped up to the plate as the Vinnie “Microwave” Johnson of this team. He can light it up off the bench at any given moment and has improved his defense. Clint Capela has made leaps and bounds as not only a defender, but also as a pick and roll threat.

Another difference in this year versus previous years is the fact that the Spurs, notorious thorn in the Rockets’ side, are more vulnerable this year. Their best player, Kwahi Leonard, has been hurt most of the year. Their second best player, Lamarcus Aldridge, recently went down with an injury and hasn’t played well when he and Leonard are sharing the floor. They are still a dangerous team if both guys are healthy, but that hasn’t come to fruition this season.

Perhaps the best reason for the Rockets’ increased chances of a title run this season, is the fact that the guys surrounding Harden are leaders. Paul and Tucker are widely recognized as more vocal vets in the huddle and/or locker room. Ariza is a no-nonsense guy, but I think he wasn’t able to reign in the locker room as quickly as he’d like. By Harden being surrounded by so many guys that take the game so serious, it seems as if it’s rubbing off on him this season. Having another playmaker/ball handler like Paul eases the tension and load on Harden’s shoulders.

I personally believe this version of the Rockets is more well-equipped to make a run at a title than previous versions of this team with Harden at the helm. There are other teams that factor into the West being won than the Warriors. The Minnesota Timberwolves are a young and upcoming team that can be taken serious as a possible threat. Harden is in such a zone, it would be hard to envision him faltering in the playoffs this season. Paul hasn’t achieved the successes that other guys have, but it’s debatable as to why. Without a clear cut third superstar, Capela isn’t there yet, this team lacks the ammunition previous teams’ have had. Now he has guys he can trust to make plays and distribute. This Rockets team deserves our undivided attention and support. It’s high time we come together as a city and support them the way they’re playing their butts off.

Things are not going well, even when Paul and Harden are both healthy. Tim Warren/Getty Images

Sometimes sports do a great job of making people look silly. Take, for example, last week when I predicted that the Rockets would go undefeated this week. With a slate of just near .500 or below teams, a fully healthy Rockets squad, and a group that had just recently embarrassed San Antonio and Chicago, it seemed like a safe call. What I've learned from the past three games, however, is that there is nothing predictable about this Houston Rockets team, as constructed.

Instead of a sweep, the Rockets were swept.

Tuesday night the Rockets were completely dismantled by the Minnesota Timberwolves. Leading 62-48 at the half, Houston imploded and followed with a 29-55 second half. James Harden would lead the Rockets as usual with 29 points, but beyond himself and Capela's 24 points, there was zero support as the next highest scorer was Eric Gordon with 10. The loss dropped Houston to 11-12 for the season.

Thursday gave the Rockets yet another opportunity to climb back to .500 against an equally underperforming Utah Jazz team. It looked as though fortune was swinging Houston's way when Utah's defensive anchor, Rudy Gobert, earned an early ejection, but instead it seemed that the send off galvanized Utah fans and Jazz alike. The result was a very thorough dusting of the Rockets, behind a 24 point, 10 rebound performance from Derrick Favors. Houston saw five separate players in double digits, but none higher than Harden's 15. Houston shot 8-36 from 3-point range as they fell to 11-13 on the season.

Saturday the Rockets traveled to Dallas for a quick rematch following last week's blowout defeat. It looked like Houston would finally be off the schneid until the dad-bod himself, Luka Doncic fired off 11 straight points to leapfrog the Rockets late in the fourth. Doncic would finish with 21 points against the Rockets. Harden would once again lead Houston in scoring with 35 points and 8 assists. Chris Paul followed with 23 points and 8 assists. Their third straight loss would drop the Rockets to 11-14. After 25 regular season games, Houston is now 14th out of 15 Western Conference teams.

Short on Excuses

Until now, there's been an easily explainable reason behind Houston's slow start. At first it was a matter of missing either Harden or Paul. Then it was a matter of health. Then their defense. And then their poor shooting.

The issue now is that every one of those excuses is null. The team is as healthy as it's been this season. Rockets' defensive guru Jeff Bzdelik has returned to the sideline. Houston's offense remains rated one of the best in the league prior to this week.

There comes a point in the season where, despite the team's potential, you have to begin to judge a team based off of their record. And at this point in the season, Houston just doesn't look good.

Looking ahead

Houston had their chance to notch a few victories and they squandered it. Now they get to face the meat of the conference, with matchups against the Trail Blazers Tuesday, the Lakers Thursday, and Memphis Saturday. What you have there is competition against the 5th, 6th, and 7th seeds, which doesn't bode well after being stomped by the 11th and 13th seeds just this past week. Nothing about the Rockets makes sense anymore and until there's any semblance of inspired play, I don't expect Houston to win any of these contests.



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