Today is December 1st and the Rockets are waking up today with the league’s second-best record and the Western Conference’s best mark at 17-4, a game and a half better than the enemy, the Golden State Warriors.
In the month of November, the Rockets won 12 of 13 games, and only one of those wins did not come in double digits. Houston steamrolled teams in November, but December is the month where things get a little more serious. Teams start to settle in and begin to take notice. As great as the Rockets have been, perception seems to have them sliding under the radar.
Boston’s 16-game win streak seemed to overshadow Houston’s achievements slightly and Golden State is still the team to watch in the West. Also, Cleveland’s topsy-turvy early season dominated storylines, but that does not seem to bother the Rockets. Houston is still enjoying an incredible season and should look to continue to roll.
West Coast Road Trip
The beginning of the month has the Rockets with a difficult swing on the west coast. First come the Lakers (12/3), who just gave the Warriors a whole lot of trouble Wednesday night.
The Jazz (12/7) follow the Lakers, and although the Jazz got blown out at Toyota Center earlier this month, the Rockets always seem to have their fair share of struggles in Utah.
To end the road trip is a trip to Portland (12/9), which is one of the hardest buildings for road opponents to grab wins. The Trail Blazers have surprised many as they sit fourth in the Western Conference currently despite trading away Allen Crabbe in the offseason and losing Al-Farouq Aminu for 13 games with an ankle injury.
Houston performs well on the road as they are 9-1 so far this season. Luckily, none of these games come on back-to-backs and the Rockets will have three days’ rest before going into Utah to play in the altitude. Utah is the most difficult game on this road trip given their Top-5 defense and it seems unrealistic that Houston will win all three of these games. If they can though, it will bring their streak up to nine games.
Projected Record: 2-1
After three on the road, the Rockets get seven at home. Five of these games will be nationally televised and this homestand will see Chris Paul play his former team in the Clippers (12/22). Before the Clippers’ game, the Rockets will see the Pelicans (12/11), Hornets (12/13), Spurs (12/15), Bucks (12/16), Jazz (12/18), and Lakers (12/20).
Of these games, the ones that stand out the most is the rare home back-to-back with San Antonio and Milwaukee. San Antonio is always a thorn in Houston’s side and Milwaukee is always a challenge with Giannis Antetokounmpo on the court.
The Spurs’ contest will be the revenge game that James Harden and the Rockets have been waiting for since May. After the crushing Game 6 defeat that made people question Harden’s ability as a postseason finisher, this is certainly a game the Rockets, and Harden, have had circled on the calendar for a while. I’m actually expecting this to turn into one of the greatest games of the regular season thus far as the Spurs and Rockets always clash due to their similar styles of play. The big question for this game however is if Kawhi Leonard will suit up. Leonard has not played a single game the whole season, but if he plays, the Spurs will give the Rockets hell. Even if he does not play, the Rockets will have a challenge that night. San Antonio stands at 14-7, good enough for third in the West, and Kawhi hasn’t even stepped on the floor yet. The Spurs are deep again this year, folks. If I could only watch one Rockets game this month, I am picking this one.
I wonder how the Rockets will be able to contain Giannis against the Bucks. Milwaukee is a lengthy team and can challenge our wings. If San Antonio makes their game difficult, I am expecting Milwaukee to bring it the following night. They also are coming off of a game the previous night, but it comes from the league’s cellar dwellers, the Chicago Bulls. I don’t expect them to have problems against them.
If the Rockets are human, they will split these two games. However, the Rockets have had several moments this season of performing on a superhuman level, and I have learned with this team to not be surprised by anything.
I am not expecting the other games to prove to be much more difficult. At this point in the season, Houston looks like a team that can beat anyone on any given night. If the Rockets lose, it will happen only if the Rockets have an off night and the opponent plays lights out. I can’t see any of the other five teams doing that.
Projected Record: 6-1
Tests to End the Year
Aside from a New Years’ Eve battle with the Lakers (12/31), the Rockets have three games that will test the team tremendously at the end of the month. The Thunder game on Christmas (12/25) highlights the three, but a road back-to-back against Boston (12/28) and Washington (12/29) will be difficult.
OKC resembles the Rockets from 2015-16 for me. Like the Rockets, the Thunder looked to create a Big 3 and have started off the season incredibly shaky. The Rockets did that with Ty Lawson (LOL) and Dwight Howard with James Harden and the Thunder have down that with PG13 and Melo with Russell Westbrook.
Something that few remember that year was the Rockets won their Christmas game against a clearly superior Spurs squad at home. Teams play different on Christmas because they know all eyes are on them. They want to create a spectacle for the country, and for Oklahoma City, facing the team that sent them home in their building will have emotions running high for the Thunder.
Oklahoma City has proven that they can beat Golden State and lose to the Orlando Magic, a team that snapped an eight-game losing streak by beating them, in a matter of a week. This team has tremendous highs and terrible lows. I believe a win on Christmas will be a tremendous high for OKC and it will bring back the narrative of Russ being the real MVP and OKC being a threat again, yadda yadda yadda...
Boston is also a fun game for Houston. The league’s best defense facing the league’s second-best offense. I want to see what answers Boston has for Houston’s offense, if they have any at all. It will be a measuring stick for the Rockets. However, Boston is playing so well that it’s hard for me to see Houston getting a win in Boston. Maybe if the game was in Houston I would think differently, but a win for the Rockets seems unlikely.
If John Wall is not playing, this should be a win for the Rockets, but Wall will likely be back from his injury and will be a nuisance for that night. However, I cannot imagine the Rockets losing three straight, so I’d say they pull out this win, but it will be close and might even feature a Rockets comeback.
Houston should get its third win against the Lakers this month on NYE. It should be a fun game though. All the games against the Lakers are fun and exciting, and this might be the best Lakers team they have had since Dwight Howard was a Laker. I’m looking forward to our battles with LA this month.
Projected Record: 2-2
Overall Projection: 10-4
This will bring the Rockets to a 10-4 record, bringing them to a 27-8 mark before New Years Day. That would mean the Rockets would have eclipsed half of their wins from last season in just two and a half months. Houston has some tests that will change them more as a team and will expose more of the answer of whether this team is a legitimate threat to challenge the Warriors come playoff time.