Houston Rockets are the best show in the NBA and getting hot at the right time

NBA Houston Rockets Russell Westbrook and James Harden (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
NBA Houston Rockets Russell Westbrook and James Harden (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) /

Over the last few weeks, the Houston Rockets have been playing their best basketball of the season. Are they getting hot at the right time?

The Houston Rockets decided last month to move on from their traditional style of play and go even smaller. Starting center Clint Capela was traded to the Atlanta Hawks and PJ Tucker has taken over as the starting center role for the team heading into the playoff stretch run.

While many were not keen on this playing style initially, it’s hard to not see that the Rockets led by James Harden and Russell Westbrook are the best show in the NBA right now – even after their small bump in the road against the New York Knicks.

The Rockets’ philosophy of having the entire court spaced out for James Harden who is still playing at an MVP level scoring 34.9 points a game has been special, but more so for Russell Westbrook who has been playing the best basketball of his career in this span of games since Capela played his last game for the team.

Westbrook is averaging 32.3 points per game on 54.3/37.5/75.4 shooting splits. Over this span, he’s leading the league in points in the paint a game at 20.4. While the Rockets were winning a good amount of games earlier in the season, there were questions of whether this pairing of two former teammates in Oklahoma City was working.

Since they bought into this extremely small-ball, five-out style the Rockets are 10-3, including wins on the road against the Lakers, Celtics, and Jazz. This team looks like an offensive juggernaut and simply can’t be guarded on the perimeter. It’s almost impossible to stay in front of Westbrook and Harden, now when one of them penetrates you have to send help or it’s a layup and if you help they can pick you apart finding cutters and spot-up shooters.

The team bought into the system and their two stars have been put in a position to dominate. Offensively, the Rockets were already one of the best in the league but since Capela left the lineup they are averaging over 120 points per game. Of course, there were questions about the team defensively, and up until their latest loss to the Knicks, they were top 10 in defensive rating over the previous 12 games.

Houston makes up for the size mismatches they have on a nightly basis by playing with tremendous heart and energy. They are creating turnovers and blocking shots at a high rate, a testament to their energy on the defensive end. After defeating the Lakers 121-111 back in early February Harden said, via Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

"“Obviously, height-wise, but heart, each individual has heart. We can compete with anybody.”"

While most of the credit certainly should go to Westbrook and Harden, we can’t dismiss the impact of players such as PJ Tucker, Ben McLemore, Eric Gordon, and Robert Covington. These guys bought into their role and are competing on both ends of the court.

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If there is one problem with the team it’s the obvious size disadvantage they face every night. Since going small they are dead last in the NBA in rebounding and opponents are collecting 11.3 offensive rebounds a game. That could be a problem come postseason time but as of right now the Rockets are making believers out of everyone. Good luck to the Western Conference teams that have to attempt to contain Russ and Harden in a seven-game series