Three keys to the Rockets Resurgence
In the past month, the Rockets have gone from a disappointing afterthought to wading chest-deep in the playoff race. That spark leading them to the fifth seed in the Western Conference came at what seemed like the least likely moment as well, as Chris Paul and James Ennis had both gone down with separate injuries. Instead of plummeting further beyond the 10-11 record they entered the month of December with, however, the Rockets ripped off a 13-5 run. Here are three key factors to Houston's resurgence.
Clint Capela has become feral
During this stretch we've watched Clint Capela kick it into an entirely different gear. He's crashed the boards far more efficiently and it's paid off. Capela went from averaging a respectable 11.8 rebounds per game in the first 20 games of the season to 14.3 throughout the Rockets resurgence and an unreal 17.6 rebounds in the last 6 contests. Since December, Capela has registered four 20+ rebound games. He's become an absolute force at an area that Houston was severely lacking in to begin the season and has been a huge reason the Rockets have turned around their season.
The Rockets are finally healthy
It seems contradictory to start by talking about losing one of the Rockets' stars to injury and then talk about how healthy they are, but it's true. While losing Chris Paul hasn't helped, Houston welcomed the return of center Nene, as well as point guard Brandon Knight. The injury issues also le\d to the call up of Danuel House from the G-league who has seemingly become this year's Gerald Green-esque "diamond in the rough" find. Austin Rivers has also been serviceable since his signing in late December, averaging 13.5 points per game, to include a 21-point performance Saturday night. The health and subsequent contributions since have played a big role in turning around Houston's season.
James ever-loving Harden
What Harden has done in the past month is uncharted territory. He averaged 36.4 points per game for the entire month of December, to go with 7.9 assists per game. He joined Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Allen Iverson as the only players to ever string together five 40-point performances in a row, and is still currently setting the record for most 35-point, 5-assist games with 10 at the moment. It has been unreal throughout, with his most recent act of mediocrity defiance coming in the form of a game winning overtime dagger from three over two defenders at Golden State last Thursday night. It's hard to assume that a run of brilliance like this can run throughout the remainder of the season, but it is exactly what the Rockets needed to save their season.
The Rockets have a fantastic week of home cooking starting with a Monday matchup against the Western Conference-leading Denver Nuggets, followed by a Wednesday tilt against the Eastern Conference-leading Milwaukee Bucks. Friday the Rockets host the Cleveland Cavaliers before a quick road game Sunday against the Orlando Magic.
Eric Gordon's absence due to a knee injury could play a factor in these matchups, but it's really hard to bet against James Harden for any stretch of time during this current rampage. I expect Houston to at least split the first two games and sweep the rest of the week.