James Harden scored 43 points in three quarters Tuesday in Sacramento, and the Rockets won for the ninth time in 10 games. While the media spent all of January and the better part of February salivating over Kevin Durant and LeBron James – rightfully so – very quietly, the Houston Rockets have made a major charge in the West, and have the fifth best record in the NBA (39-18).
Delving deeper, the Rockets have the NBA’s best record since January 1 (18-5). It took some time for Dwight Howard to get used to his teammates, for Houston to figure out Omer Asik’s backup role (after they couldn’t trade him), and for the Rockets to settle the Patrick Beverly/Jeremy Lin point guard situation. While offense and depth are not a problem, the one concern is defense. While Miami, Indiana, Oklahoma City and San Antonio are all in the Top 10 for points per game allowed, the Rockets are tied for 19th. In defensive efficiency they’re slightly better – 11th, just ahead of Miami per that site; 9th according to ESPN. And oh, look at that: The Rockets are 3-0 against the mighty Spurs.
Houston is just 1.5 games behind San Antonio in the West, and four games back of OKC for the top spot. We’ll find out much more about the Rockets in their next nine games – two games against Miami, home against Indiana, and on the road against Oklahoma City. Beating OKC is the most important if Houston wants to chase the No. 1 overall seed in the West.
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