How far can the Rockets go?

As of this writing, the Houston Rockets are 30-9 and just two games behind the Spurs in the loss column for the second overall seed in the Western Conference. They are in the midst of an eight game winning streak and have been looking amazing as of late. They rank second in the NBA in offensive rating at a monster 115.6 and are third in the NBA in Simple Rating System, a stat that accounts for point differential and strength of schedule to rank teams. They have been one of the best teams in the NBA thus far this season, but how are can they go?

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The Rockets center on James Harden, but what they’ve built around him is really impressive. It’s sort of like a reverse version of the Spurs in that everyone know their role, but instead of playing defense they are jacking three pointers. Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon are the two big offseason signings that have gotten a lot of publicity and for good reason, they’ve been amazing. They have combined to shoot threes at a 41% clip and are jacking up a combined 15.8 per game. The real steals though have been draft pick Sam Dekker, Montrezl Harrell and the aging Nene Hilario. The Rockets have gotten a true team effort through players like this. Of the top 10 players in minutes this season, 9 of them have a PER of 14.2 or higher. The only holdout, Corey Brewer, should be expected to improve.

The first thing to look at is the Western Conference standings. It’s pretty easy to imagine a scenario in which they overtake the Spurs and take the second seed in the Western Conference. The Spurs are likely to rest players like LaMarcus Aldridge, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker down the stretch because they always do while the Rockets are less likely to do that. The number one seed seems a bit more unlikely as the Warriors are just that good. Unless a major injury happens to one or more of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant, it’s hard to see them catching up to them. The Warriors are going to win 65+ games and that is rarified air. That said, it is feasible the Rockets could give them a scare and force them to rest less than they would like to.

The big issue with the Rockets is that it doesn’t really matter if they are the #2 or #3 seed, they are still very likely to face the Spurs in the second round. That will be a war and if they come out of it alive, they will be rewarded by facing the best team in the league in the Conference Finals.

Why I think that the Rockets are a good match-up for the Warriors, they are definitely one of the only teams that can match their big runs and go on their own, this will be a serious uphill climb. The core of James Harden, Trevor Ariza and Patrick Beverley was around in the 2015 Conference Finals against the Warriors where they lost 4-1, but almost everyone else has changed. The addition of Mike D’Antoni as a coach has unlocked something and James Harden could be the best offensive player in the league. I’m not quite ready to pick the Rockets for the Finals, but it is no longer a dream. It is an actual possible reality.

The Rockets are currently +1000 to win the Western Conference at Bovada and on a pure odds-to-likelihood basis, that is the best bet on the board.

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