In July of 2016, Kevin Durant shook the NBA world by signing with the Golden State Warriors, lifting an already all-time great team to possible the best to ever play the game. The Golden State Warriors then added onto the hype by dominating the 2017 NBA playoffs, going an astounding 12-0 in the Western Conference, fending off a crippled San Antonio Spurs team without their Defensive Player of the Year and versatile primary scorer in Kawhi Leonard. Finally, they faced the best player in the world LeBron James in the NBA Finals, beating his team 4-1. Since then, the rest of league, with a few exceptions, has been scrambling to build a team for the future, already giving up on the title for the next five years. However, led by their cornerstone James Harden, the Houston Rockets may have built themselves a roster that, if peaks at the perfect moment, actually may have a chance at crashing the Golden State Warriors dynasty and ending that party before it begins.
The top of the list starts with first team All-NBA member James Harden, paired up with a first-class point guard in Chris Paul. Rocking the paint are big men Clint Capela and Nene. The most unique part of this team, however, is the high number of 3&D players they have, such as Trevor Ariza, Eric Gordon, Joe Johnson, Gerald Green, Ryan Anderson, and PJ Tucker. Led by the offensive specialist Mike D’Antoni, the Rockets’ identity is built on throwing up as many three’s as possible. Anyone and everyone on that squad has the green light to shoot, and from anywhere on the court. Considering the members, it hasn’t been that bad of an idea either.
Of course, that may be all good and well, but the NBA has seen superteams built before, many of which have been absolute let downs due the lack of coherence or team chemistry. On paper, the Rockets look like they have a chance, but what happens when the team goes out there and plays on the hardwood? Thankfully, the team has proven they can play as a unit from day one. Proof? The team currently holds the best record in the NBA at 51-14, a half-game above the 51-15 Warriors and a dazzling 11.5 games ahead of the third seeded Portland Trail Blazers in the West. Very recently, from January 27 to March 8, the Houston Rockets went on a 17-game winning streak, broken on Friday in a tight 108-105 game against the 48-17 Toronto Raptors. Against above .500 teams, the team still holds the NBA’s best record of 29-10. Many people specifically questioned the addition of Chris Paul and how cush a ball dominant player could play with James Harden. Answer: When James Harden, Chris Paul, and center Clint Capela all play in a game, the team has gone an astounding 33-2. The team has clearly shown that they can play as one, simultaneously promoting James Harden to the front runner for Most Valuable Player of the 2017-2018 season.
What makes this the year the Houston Rockets can contend for the NBA championship? We can always pinpoint the key star veteran additions of Chris Paul and “Iso Joe” Johnson. They’ll help the team through their play and even their leadership. But that’s not special. Every good team has stars, but that doesn’t give them a chance. What sets this team apart is that each player on the team accepts their role. Everyone plays the way the team needs them to, not the way they want to. No one is doing too much or too little. The team had created an atmosphere where winning triumphs all. The players are playing for a championship—not money, not fame, not stats. Simply to win. Don’t think it matters? Ask NBA legends Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith just how important it is. Charles Barkley says he knew the Phoenix Suns of the 1990s wouldn’t win again after losing against the Bulls in the 1994 NBA Finals because the team camaraderie fell apart, while Kenny “the Jet” Smith mentions that his second ring was hard to get due to “Fat-Cat-itis,” where the fame from the first championship carries onto the next season. This Rockets team is locked and loaded, not a distraction in sight.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe we’re just trying to think of another story line to distract ourselves from the inevitable, a rematch between the Warriors and Cavaliers. But, maybe I’m not. Maybe James Harden is right: this just might be the Rockets’ year.