NBA: 3 things to watch for across the league in February

NBA Ben Simmons and Giannis Antetokounmpo (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
NBA Ben Simmons and Giannis Antetokounmpo (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images) /
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Which way will the middle of the road teams move?

With the true contenders dominating the top of the conference standings and the pretenders starting to slide, we are left with a handful of teams who are just loitering in the middle that are proving hard to gauge.

The first of these teams is the bipolar Rockets.

Currently sitting at 30-18 and in 5th position in the Western Conference, the Rockets are struggling to string together multiple victories after losing six of their past 10 games. The most concerning factor of this recent streak is that three of the six losses have come on their homecourt, proving they are unreliable no matter where they play.

With the dynamic duo of James Harden and Russell Westbrook, most expected the Rockets to be a legitimate contender in the West. Yet, through the first half of the season, they seem to be comfortably a step behind the pair of Los Angeles teams and even the Nuggets.

The Rockets’ strength is the scoring prowess, averaging 118.7 points-per-game which ranks second across the NBA. Harden is breaking records with his scoring numbers, despite suffering from inconsistent shooting performances in multiple games.

If the Rockets want to move from the middle of the road to a legitimate contender they need to find more consistency on the offensive end and strengthen up their defensive game. They concede an average of 114.3 points-per-game, the highest of any team placed in the top-6 positions across both conferences.

Across in the Eastern Conference, the 76ers are in a similar position to the Rockets as a middle of the road team.

This was a team that was supposed to be a clear-cut top-two team in the East alongside Milwaukee, yet the 76ers have struggled in the first half of the season. Despite winning six of their past seven games, Philadelphia holds a 31-18 record to sit 5th in the Eastern Conference and well behind the Conference topping Bucks.

There have been chemistry issues with multiple reports of tension inside the camp, a major injury to their No.1 man Joel Embiid, and a delayed development of Ben Simmons who seems to play far better basketball with Embiid on the sidelines.

Their average of 108.5 points-per-game is well behind the average of the top-four seeds in the East and their inability to find a consistent outside shooter has plagued them, averaging 18th in the league for 3-point percentage.

One aspect the 76ers need to improve on is their play on the road away from their homecourt. They hold a 9-16 record on the road, far different from their 20-2 record at home which shows the need to play better away from home.

Both the 76ers and Rockets still have plenty of time to turn their form around, and February has the potential to shape their seasons. Other teams such as the Indiana Pacers and Dallas Mavericks will also face similar tests over February, but it will prove super important for Philadelphia and Houston in particular.