The Houston Rockets’ nine-game winning streak just came to an end with Wednesday’s matchup against the Golden State Warriors. James Harden’s 30+ PPG shooting streak ended at 32 games in February. But the Rockets’ odds of making the Finals are on the rise. So what are the chances the Rockets can make it to the Finals… instead of the Warriors? Is it possible we might see an upset in the West?
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The playoff picture in the Western Conference is starting to look pretty clear now, and it seems that Houston is the biggest threat to the Warriors’ dynasty. Look, the Rockets have already beaten Golden State three times this season, so we know they can do it. The good news is that this team isn’t looking at Wednesday’s loss and the end of their win streak as a bad thing. After falling short by just two points at home, James Harden was quite optimistic, saying, “It was a good game for us, we didn’t come out with the win but [it’s a] learning experience.” Sometimes teams need to get those losses under their belt before the postseason in order to improve.
But lots of sports experts are out there to remind you that the regular season is not the playoffs. Last year, the Rockets had the best record in the league at the end of the season and pushed the Warriors to a Game 7. But that’s where it all crumbled. They couldn’t make any threes (no really, they missed 27 in a row during Game 7), and both Chris Paul and Clint Capela had been injured for months during the regular season.
But don’t all those things – combined with their 3-1 run in the series this year, a healthy Houston team, and a desire for vengeance – mean the Rockets just might be capable of more? These teams play two different styles of ball. Yet again, the Rockets are leading the league in three-point shots made for the second year in a row. The Warriors are of a run-and-gun style team, with smaller guards like Steph Curry and elite players on both sides of the floor.
If the Rockets are going to do it, Harden does seem to be the key to all this. While his absurd “streak” might be over, he’s still averaging the most points per game in the league with 36. Yeah, 36! Nobody else is even close to that number. (Paul George is the next closest with 28.) Harden is playing even better than his MVP season last year. But remember, the Rockets beat the Warriors on February 23rd… when James Harden sat out with the flu. It’s possible they can beat Golden State without him, but don’t count on that being the case in the Finals.
Others are worried that Harden will be burnt out by the postseason, after the load he carried for the Rockets in the regular season. But The Beard doesn’t think that’s a concern. He believes the Rockets are back.
Harden has an important supporting cast member in Chris Paul… when he’s healthy. Paul is one guy who will be able to isolate and take down the Warriors’ DeMarcus Cousins by attacking him one on one.
Shooting guard Eric Gordon believes that if the Rockets can’t do it, no one in the West can. According to Gordon, “We’re a lot smaller than last year — we’re a different team — but we match up well with them. I really do believe there’s no other team but us that can really have a chance against them.”
Gordon has been on fire as of late, riding a shooting streak of his own and hitting 51% of his three-pointers, 26 of 51 in his past five games. The team has improved their overall defense which has opened up the court and gotten Gordon into a rhythm and made other teams take notice. If they can continue to balance their epic offense with a strong defense, as the Warriors continue to struggle, the Rockets might have a shot to be Western Conference champs.
We may be getting ahead of ourselves though. At the moment, the Rockets have the third seed in the West. But it’s still a tight battle for any of those third through fifth seeds between them and the Oklahoma City Thunder and Portland Trail Blazers – both of whom just a win away and breathing down the Rockets’ necks.
Houston takes on the Phoenix Suns tonight so we’ll see how they fare in their march toward the postseason.