James Harden went off Tuesday night yet again, dropping 42 points, grabbing six rebounds and dishing out seven assists. He led his Houston Rockets to a 115-11 win over the Portland Trail Blazers, as his team solidified itself at the top of the Western Conference.
With 11 games remaining in the regular season and the Golden State Warriors limping towards the finish line, the Rockets have supplanted the defending champs as the NBA’s best team. They’ve won 23 of their last 24 games and 30 of their last 33. So yeah, it’s fair to say they’re rolling.
The Rockets have all but secured the top seed in the West and that’s a big deal, because they’re 27-6 at home this season. That could be an enormous advantage in the postseason.
In the Bay Area, Stephen Curry’s ankle is acting up, Andre Iguodala has a bum shoulder, Kevin Durant has injured ribs and Klay Thompson has a broken thumb. While the Warriors are dealing with a ton of injuries, the Rockets are at full strength and playing like it.
Houston is obviously led by Harden and Chris Paul, but there’s far more to the team than that dynamic duo. Clint Capela is one of the NBA’s best young bigs, Trevor Ariza is still a sold 3 and D man, Ryan Anderson can catch fire from deep at any time and Eric Gordon is one of the league’s best bench players. Then role players like P.J. Tucker, Luc Mbah a Moute and Gerald Green can all provide solid minutes.
The Rockets’ core of Harden, Paul and Capela has developed into a “Big Three.” Capela’s rapid emergence has made that possible. He currently leads the NBA in field goal percentage (65.2 percent), is seventh in rebounds per game (10.9) and is sixth in blocks (1.83 per game), while setting career-highs in points (14.1), minutes (27.4) and PER (24.58).
In fact — thanks to Capela’s rise — Houston is the only NBA team with three players in the top 12 in PER. Harden tops the league at 30.67, while Paul (24.69) and Capela (24.58) are 11th and 12th respectively. Meanwhile, Harden (.302), Paul (.266) and Capela (.238) are all in the top four leaguewide in win shares per 48 minutes.
Obviously the Rockets have what it takes at the top to win a title, but it’s their depth that makes them scary. They have a deep, talented lineup that can step up in key situations.
We all know the playoffs are a different animal than the regular season, so this could all wind up being moot. Maybe the Warriors will get healthy and catch their second wind. In fact, the smart money is that they’ll figure things out and reach the NBA Finals for the fourth-straight year.
But as of right now, the Rockets are the team no one wants to play. They are the best squad taking the court on a nightly basis, and if the playoffs started today, they’d be the heavy favorite to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy.