The Houston Rockets – winners of 17 straight – travel to Toronto on Friday to challenge the Raptors.
Since the first of February, the team in Canada (first in the East) has lost a grand total of two games … two!
Interestingly enough, the Houston Rockets (first in the West) have lost, well, zero since then … zero!
Throw out the wins, if you must, but if the NBA Playoffs began today, it would be Toronto against Houston in the NBA Finals. A matchup that seemed like anything but possible coming into the season.
Both of these teams have a reputation for coming up short in the biggest of moments, but this year, both squads have been able to reverse that narrative.
Toronto’s path to the Finals looks much cleaner. Neither Boston nor Cleveland are near the “juggernaut” that is Golden State.
Cleveland is in wait-and-see mode with a new roster, but even if it peaks, it is still very beatable. A team made up of LeBron James, a bunch of C-level players, and an injury-prone Kevin Love (maybe) is not exactly a team guaranteed for anything. Taking that team on the road to Boston, then Toronto has to put the fear into LeBron stans that another trip to the Finals may not be happening.
As for Boston, Toronto is just a better, deeper, more well-balanced team now that we know Gordon Hayward is not coming back. Neither team can match the bench of the Raptors that is currently “destroying the NBA”.
The Raptors’ pieces fit together like Tetris, on many nights it seems both the Celtics and Cavs are a Rubik’s Cube.
Toronto is fortunate enough to be playing in the East because the top two teams out West are NBA 2K on Hall-of-Fame level difficulty. And Houston, right now, is the better team.
Back to the facts, Houston is 34-1 this season when James Harden, Chris Paul, and Clint Capela (most underrated player in the NBA) are on the court together. Eric Gordon has also given H-Town another option to slice defenses when least expected.
Against Boston this past Saturday, Gordon showed it can be he that takes over a game – on offense and defense – to bring the Rockets to victory.
Golden State is credited for changing the way basketball is played with utilizing the 3-point line like never before seen, however, Houston is the one that has mastered it. The Rockets are making nearly four more 3-pointers per game than the inventor.
In 2018, the second most deadly option in the NBA, behind the 3-pointer, is getting to the line, and the Rockets are 16 spots higher in FTA per game than the Warriors.
Since the launch of the Warriors dynasty, they have never played a team like this Rockets team.
Comparing these two teams is assumption vs reality. Most assume Golden State is better due to reputation and recent history, yet there has been no indication that this iteration of the Warriors is better than the 2017-18 Rockets. To put it in perspective, the Rockets have the highest offensive rating ever, even ahead of the Warriors a season ago.
What the Rockets and Raptors have done has made this Friday’s matchup a real chance to be known as a “Finals preview,” in fact, FiveThirtyEight projects it will be:
“Based on “CARM-Elo,” a mix of team Elo ratings and our CARMELO player projections. Updated after every game.” Toronto has a 56% chance of making the Finals, trailing only Houston at 58%.
If I had to bet, right now, Houston will be hosting Toronto on May 31.