Coming into this season, if you asked anyone who was winning the NBA Finals almost anyone and everyone would say the Golden State Warriors. They’ve earned that respect with the way they dominated the playoffs last year. However, if you ask that same question right now, I think the narrative would change. Most people would still say the Golden State Warriors but I’m not sure if that pendulum is swayed so much in their direction.
The Houston Rockets surprisingly have the best record in the NBA at the moment. Golden State isn’t far behind but the Rockets have hoisted themselves to a level that’s very respectful. They’re a team that the NBA Champions and NBA fans have to take seriously. The question of if Chris Paul and James Harden could mesh quickly vanished. Paul has shown he can play without the ball and Harden is at the forefront of the MVP race yet again. But it’s more than just these two guys.
Houston’s management put together a solid group of role players who play their position well. What’s great about what Mike D’Antoni has orchestrated with this offense is their spacing. If you watch their offense, a lot of times their spot-up shooters are a couple of feet behind the three-point line. That may seem negative from an efficiency standpoint but what that spacing does is it makes it more difficult for defenders to contest shots.
When Paul or Harden has the ball in their isolation situations, all eyes are on them. When they drive, they cause a lot of attention and when the ball is kicked out, that differential in space behind the three-point line makes the biggest difference in the world. It’s more ground that the defense has to cover and the difference between a contested and non-contested shot.
While the Rockets excel at isolation ball, it still scares me a bit. Houston leads the league in isolation possessions with Harden and Paul being two of the best in those situations. However, this has been my biggest strife with the Rockets in previous years. We all know the game slows down and the court seems to get smaller during the playoffs. Defenses become more intense and have a tendency to hone in on those isolation plays. In previous years, the Rockets have relied too much on Harden. He had to create everything. Physically he couldn’t keep up and as a whole, the Rockets became easier to defend.
With that being said, this year is a little different. With the addition of Paul, he gives Harden another outlet to defer to when he’s fatigued and he’s another threat for the defense to worry about. All of the focus can’t be on Harden with Paul on the court at the same time. Let’s not forget, the Rockets also added Joe Johnson who’s another guy that can come in and knock down shots but get his own buckets as well.
This team is confident and not scared of the juggernaut that is the Golden State Warriors. They have to be taken seriously and to be honest, I think they can give the Warriors a run for their money. Golden State hasn’t looked like the team that we’re accustomed to seeing. The dominance just hasn’t been there. The synopsis is that they’re unfocused and bored and it’s been overlooked because people believe they will just turn it on when the time comes.
Golden State’s kryptonite has always been their turnovers and this year it’s been cringe-worthy. They’re averaging 15.9 turnovers a game which is 28th in the league. If I’m looking at a potential matchup between these two teams in the playoffs, the Rockets will make them pay for their mistakes. Golden State definitely needs to pay more attention to detail more than ever if they wish to repeat. Their talent alone will beat most of the NBA but I believe they have to be at their best to take down this Houston Rockets team.