Rockets

Are 2019’s Rockets Better Than Last Year’s?

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During the 2017-2018 regular season, the Houston Rockets had a franchise record of 65 wins. The Rockets finished with the best record in the NBA and took the Warriors to seven games in the Western Conference Finals. Only a handful of teams can say they went toe-to-toe against possibly the greatest team ever assembled. Had it not been for the Rockets going 0-27 from the three-point line (the worst shooting stretch in NBA history) and an injured Chris Paul, the results may have been different.

Today, the Rockets sit with a record of 42-25, which is good for 3rd best in the Western Conference. This healthy Rockets team is currently rolling on a nine-game win streak. They are playing their best basketball with just 15 games left in the regular season. The Rockets have a chance to be just 2.5 games behind the 1st seed with a win tonight against the Warriors. This feat almost seemed impossible after going into the all-star break with a record of 33-24. With the team being the healthiest it’s been all season, are the Rockets better than last year’s WCF (Western Conference Finals) team?

Key Losses From Last Season

After starting this season 11-14, the Rockets gained some criticism for not re-signing key players in Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute over the offseason. Both players signed one-year deals with the Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Clippers, respectively. The Suns later traded Ariza to the Washington Wizards after he played 26 games with Phoenix.

Ariza was a key role player for the Rockets last season, defending the best player on the court while shooting the three-ball efficiently. He shot 36.8% from three and averaged 11.7 ppg during the 2017-18 regular season. Ariza’s poor shooting during the 2018 playoffs could’ve been a reason the Rockets weren’t willing to spend big on the veteran forward. Notoriously, Ariza went 0-12 from three in the Rockets game 7 loss to the Warriors.

Luc was also great for the Rockets for the better part of the regular season when healthy. Due to a dislocated shoulder, he was sidelined twice last season. It was clear he was no longer the same player when he returned during the 2nd round of the playoffs. Luc averaged just 2.8 ppg in 9 games for the Rockets during the 2018 playoffs. This season, Luc has only played 4 games for the Clippers and has been out (knee soreness) since October 23rd. The Rockets took their chances by not offering anything more than the veteran’s minimum, which has been the right play thus far.

Key Mid-Season Pickups

During the WCF last year, the Rockets only had a 7-man rotation when matching up with the Warriors. Coach Mike D’Antoni was limited in his ability to have players playing for extended minutes. Outside of the starting five, only Eric Gordon and Gerald Green played significant minutes. This season, the team is much deeper than they were heading into the WCF last year. The Rockets have added depth to their roster with the addition of Austin Rivers, Kenneth Faried, and most recently, Danuel House.

Rivers has been good defensively since being signed by the Rockets late December. He replaced an injured Chris Paul at the time and has played his role well since Paul’s return. The Undefeated asked in a January interview how happy he was playing for the Rockets. He said, “it’s the happiest I’ve been in my career”. Faried also exceled in his role as a mid-season pickup while Clint Capela was dealing with a thumb injury. Faried is averaging a career-high 15 ppg and 9.4 rpg for the Rockets.

 

Danuel House, before being sent to the G-league, averaged 9 ppg and shot 39.0% from behind the arc in 25 games. The Rockets were also 9-3 while House was in the starting lineup. Kelly Iko of The Athletic reported yesterday that House will have his contract converted for the remainder of the season. With House returning, there’s no question that the Rockets’ bench is now as good as it’s been all season.

Harden’s MVP Candidacy

Despite being the MVP of the 2017-18 regular season, James Harden has taken his game to another level. This season, Harden is averaging 36.2 ppg (most since the 86′-87′ season). He’s become better at driving to the basket with the floater, taking more and making more this season. Harden has also been deadly with the step back. Last season, Harden made a total of 119 step back jump shots. This season, he’s already made 190 step backs on 39.4% shooting. He has also been better on the defensive end averaging 2.1 steals per game (2nd in the NBA). There’s no doubt that Harden has lifted the Rockets by increasing his level of play on both ends of the floor.

Push for Better Home Court Advantage

Losing Ariza last season was a big loss, but with a healthy team, the Rockets have shown so far that role players can be replaceable. The team that they have now is much deeper and more versatile than they were last season. A healthy starting five, with the addition of Rivers, Faried, and House, has sprung the Rockets back into championship discussion. The Rockets are poised to make a run at a potential No. 1 seed in the Western Conference with just 15 games left. The Rockets have the opportunity to extend their win streak to 10 wins tonight versus the Golden State Warriors.

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About Aqib Gazi

Aqib was born and raised in the great city of Houston, TX. He grew up a Rockets fan and his favorite player growing up was Steve Francis. Aqib graduated from the University of Houston in 2017 and covers the Houston Rockets for TLSM.

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