Keys to the Rockets’ Resurgence
The Rockets have quickly transformed from the league’s biggest disappointment into its hottest team. Thanks to ten wins in the last eleven games, the Rockets catapulted ten spots upwards into the fourth seed. In an ultra-competitive West, these wins came against quality conference opponents including Portland, LA Lakers, Utah, San Antonio, OKC, Memphis, and New Orleans (and a great win against Boston).
First and foremost, the obvious reason is that Harden is flat out killing it. In the past ten games, he’s dropped 408 points, 89 assists, and 68 rebounds - the most cumulative total for a ten game span EVER.
Look at the table below, which shows that Harden’s points, threes, and shooting percentages have all increased as the season has progressed. It also shows that Harden is putting up even better numbers than last year, when he won the MVP award.
Shout out to fellow OTG writer Dalton Pence, who’s December 21st article stated that Harden should be in the MVP consideration. At the time of Dalton’s article, Harden was 10/1 for sixth most likely to win the MVP award. Today he’s at 4.5/1, good for second most likely (behind only Giannis).
Rivers has been a steal for the Rockets thus far, averaging 10.5 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 threes. More importantly, Rivers has averaged 35.6 minutes per game, which has proved to be tremendously important given Chris Paul’s injury and the overall shallow roster.
Even when Paul returns, Rivers will provide energy off the bench and help preserve Paul’s minutes. Not bad for a minimum salary signing, even if he did falsely claim to have slept with Paul’s wife (which led to the fiasco in the Staples Center’s secret tunnels and locker room last year).
House has been another great bargain (currently on a two-way deal), averaging 8.3 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 1.3 threes. Similar to Rivers, House has contributed 22.7 meaningful minutes per game that have helped the Rockets manage injuries. House has been on fire over the past 10 games, shooting 51.8% FG, 42.5% 3PT and 77.8% FT.
In an interview earlier this year, House noted that he never lacked confidence in his offensive game but knew he needed to step up his defensive efforts. He certainly has taken this to heart, as he currently has the second-best defensive rating on the team at 104.9 behind only Nene.
I went to a summer league game in Vegas this past July, where House dropped 30 in a loss to Cleveland. Later that night, I saw him at Drai’s nightclub where Future was performing. I yelled his name from the balcony, and he gave me a “WTF? Someone recognizes me” kind of look. Fast forward a few months and now every Rockets fan knows of the hometown product.
The Rockets started the season horribly on the boards but have improved to a net positive position over time.
Clint Capela has upped his game, increasing his monthly average from 11.2 in October to 13.5 in December. Nene’s return from injury has also helped, especially when Capela goes to the bench. It’s no coincidence that Nene returned 14 games ago, which is about the time the Rockets started playing better. PJ Tucker has also increased his monthly rebounding average, likely as a byproduct of Capela and Nene’s efforts.
Rest of the Season
The Rockets will hopefully use this momentum to continue to improve and win games. It’s unlikely that Harden can maintain his scorching scoring spree, but he won’t have to when Paul returns to the lineup in a few weeks. The silver lining to Paul’s hamstring injury is that the time off will help his other ailments like the elbow tendonitis that was affecting his shot.
I realize the risk of writing this article the night before the Rockets play Golden State (the opening lines have the Rockets as an eight point underdog). Regardless of that game, there’s no doubting that the Rockets are trending in the right direction and are fortunate to be in the fourth seed after such a bad start to the season.
Note: all stats from NBA.com