Are Houston Rockets ready to win an NBA Championship?
Having lost back to back games against the Memphis Grizzlies in the last week of January, nobody could have predicted what was about to happen to the Houston Rockets season.
Three days after the second loss, San Antonio visited Houston and with no James Harden the Spurs were expected to win and do so comfortably. This was further helped by the below par start Dwight Howard got off to on the night. By half time, Houston found themselves 15 points down. However, thanks to a couple of role players in Terrence Jones and Jeremy Lin and a vast improvement from ‘Superman’, the Rockets prevailed 97-90. This wasn’t just a win for the Rockets, it was that confidence boost they needed!
The win against San Antonio was the start of an unparalleled run of 15-2 for Houston showing that they are not just hear to make up the numbers. But exactly how far can they go?
Several former NBA players who have now turned pundits are still adamant on writing Houston off, claiming they still don’t have what it takes to win the NBA Championship. On the other hand, with a few tweaks, there are those who think Houston can go all the way.
Houston currently have the 5th best record in the NBA. Only Indiana, Miami, OKC and San Antonio hold better records. However, in the 15-2 run the Rockets have been on, they beat SA as mentioned, steam-rolled the Pacers 112-86 and also beat Miami 106-103.
The key to Houston’s success is largely down to the acquisition of Dwight Howard from the Lakers last summer. What may have seemed like a big risk back in July has shown to be far from it as Dwight has helped move Houston into 3rd place in the Western Conference.
The key to getting Dwight to play in a manner which would benefit the Rockets is that he has to be enjoying his Basketball and playing with friends in Chandler Parsons and James Harden has resulted in Dwight Howard showing exactly why he is considered one of the best big men in the league.
As well as his scoring ability, DH offers Houston a different option, a low post presence, win fouls and grabs offensive rebounds (he ranks 6th in the league in Oreb and 4th in overall rebounds). The biggest feature of Howard’s play is the fact that he occupies defences so well on the inside that he creates huge amounts of space for Houston’s shooters in Harden, Lin, Parsons and Beverley. This is evident in the fact that Houston are the team in the NBA with the highest amount of 3 pointers attempted per game, 25.9, with 35.4% of those landing.
Howard offers them versatility, but it isn’t just because of him that Houston are where they are. Since his move to Houston, James Harden has shown that he is one of the best Shooting Guards in the league; not that anybody doubted this while he was at OKC. It is a fact that Houston are a better team with Harden than without him. He currently sits 5th in scoring at 24.9 points per game and is a key contributor to the Rockets offence every night.
Houston’s offensive rating when Harden plays is 108.7 compared to 103.7 when he doesn’t play. Their defenseive rating is also worse when Harden isn’t on the court, 104.2 in comparison to 101.3 when he plays. The team functions better when Harden plays and although Dwight Howard has made the difference, Harden could be the key.
The biggest thing standing in the way of the Houston Rockets winning an NBA championship is in fact the Houston Rockets.
Although they have beaten all of the teams around them other than OKC, Houston are currently far too inconsistent to win the championship. At least they have been up until the last 2 months. Their 2 losses in their last 17 games have come at the hand of LAC and GSW, the teams ranked 4th and 6th i the West. Both losses came on days where Houston had played the night before and can’t be looked into too much.
Prior to this, Houston lost games to teams that they shouldn’t have any problems in beating; Lakers, Hawks, Kings, Jazz, Suns and 76’ers. This is what has held Houston back so far this season.
The next problem that Houston has is turnovers. The Rockets are currently the second worst team in the league when it comes to committing turnovers; currently 16.5 per game. This is largely down to their 2 best players; Howard and Harden commit 3.3 and 3.7 turnovers per game respectively and sit 11th and 4th in the turnover rankings. If Houston want to stand any chance of winning any title this year, they have to stop turning the ball over as much as they have been so far this season.
Another problem Houston have is Defence. You would think that with a 3x defensive player of the year in their ranks that Houston would have very little issue with defending but you couldn’t be any further from the truth in doing so. Dwight is a great defender but he cant defend on behalf of his teammates. At times this season Dwight has been a sitting duck in the post and other teams see him as vulnerable. They attack the rim and try to build up his foul count. When Dwight is fouling, he cannot be as intimidating as he would like to be. But by no means is he to blame.
Houston’s perimeter defence is mediocre at best. Their defensive rating is 102.1 which ranks 9th in the league, but with Dwight on the floor every night you would expect it to be far better. Unless they are able to find a way to give Howard the protection he needs to be a monster in the post, Houston are going to find it hard to pose any threat to the likes of Miami and OKC come playoff time.
Tonights game against OKC will give a good indication of exactly where Houston are as they haven’t managed to beat Oklahoma so far this season; 0-2.
If Kevin McHale is able to fix the defence, stop the turnovers and ensure his team make light work of the teams who are lower down the league, then heading into playoff time there is no doubt that Houston will cause a stir. Howard and Harden are two of the best players in the league and with the likes of Lin, Asik, Parsons and Beverley they will be able to win playoff games and potentially go all the way and win the NBA Championship.
When they are good, they are very good and right now they are the hottest team in the NBA!