It has been five weeks since the Rockets last dropped a game and the team has been beating to the drum of fourteen consecutive victories. Houston has not had a streak this long since the team won 22 games back in 2008 and it has been a while since the Rockets have looked this dominant.
Their 25-4 mark is tied for the best record after 29 games in franchise history with the 1993-94 team, often argued as the greatest Rockets squad ever. The team has generated a lot of discussion from fans and foes alike and we are bringing the roundtable back from its brief hiatus to talk about how hot these Rockets have been.
Joining us as our guest panelist this week is someone who has been with the Rockets for over 20 years and is one of the most elusive voices when it comes to Houston basketball, Craig Ackerman. We are very excited to have Craig talk Rockets with us. Thank you for participating in this week’s roundtable.
This week’s panel consists of Adam Sweeney (AS), Colin Ainsworth (CoA), Ethan Rothstein (ER), Xian E (XE), and guest Craig Ackerman (CrA).
Continue the conversation in the comments below!
1. What has surprised you most about the win streak?
Adam Sweeney (@ATXPoprocks): The seamless effort in which James Harden and Chris Paul have become acclimated to each other is outstanding. All off-season we heard questions about how two ball-first point guards could handle playing together. The answer to that question is, "Apparently, pretty damn well!" The addition of Paul has boosted the Rockets into rarefied air. They are a legitimate threat to the Golden State Warriors for the title.
Colin Ainsworth (@Drainsworth): The biggest surprise of the streak has been the biggest surprise of the season: James Harden’s shooting has improved drastically. He has always been a good shooter, and as the center of the team that good shooting would turn into good numbers. But — and perhaps this is CP3’s doing — Harden has become a great shooter, automatic in a way he’s never been his whole career. There’s fear in teams when they let Harden get shots off, and I would argue that hasn’t been there before.
Ethan Rothstein (@ethanrothstein): The different ways in which the Rockets have won. Some nights it's been the James Harden show, others it's been the CP3 show. Some nights have been blowouts, others have been thrilling comebacks. Some nights have been high-scoring drag races, others have been defensive showdowns. They've played good teams and bad, injured teams and healthy. Through it all, consistently good play in the fourth quarter, particularly the moment with Chris Paul on the floor, has been the common thread. That's been a rarity in recent Rocket seasons, and it's been a joy.
Xian E (@xiane1): The most surprising thing about the winning streak to me is that the Rockets have managed to win games where they clearly weren’t playing their best, and often win those games easily. The second most surprising thing is the eye-opening brilliance of Chris Paul. I knew he was good, but just how good he is wasn’t fully understood. The fact that the Rockets have a guy who can legitimately carry the load when Harden is dinged up, or having an off night is stupendous. Paul has clearly gotten comfortable, and it’s important to remember, he’s only played 15 games with the Rockets.
There’s a media narrative waiting to be flipped here. Maybe it wasn’t Chris Paul “Holding back the Clippers.” but quite the reverse?
Craig Ackerman (@ca_rockets): The ease at which the Rockets are winning the vast majority of these games. It's not easy to win in the NBA even for the good teams, but outside of the comeback wins vs Portland and New Orleans and the competitive win vs the Bucks, the Rockets have been steamrolling teams.
2. What is your favorite win in the streak?
AS: Beating the San Antonio Spurs always brings a smile to my face. Consider it a Christmas gift to myself early, especially after so many Spurs fans acted like they didn't want Chris Paul when they lost out on him in free agency. Suckers.
CoA: I think about my favorite win in the streak kind of like I think about my favorite book: usually it’s the last one. (Try The Sellout by Paul Beatty!)
ER: Probably the win over the Blazers. The Rockets were down in the second half on the road in one of the NBA's most hostile environments. The Blazers have been one of the NBA's best defenses. It didn't matter. Harden was so epically good and the defense played so lights out that the Blazers played basketball like they were running out of oxygen in the fourth quarter. The win was especially key because the Rockets had faced a lot of cupcakes to that point, so it was a great test. Last night over the Jazz is a close second, also because it was a comeback and the team was tired-looking all night.
XE: San Antonio. It was good to get out from under the Game Six Narrative a tiny bit. It doesn’t end it, nor should it, but it does cut off a lot of tiresome hand-wringing and hot-taking that would have occurred had the Rockets lost.
CrA: The comeback in Portland. I'll admit some bias here. Portland is easily my favorite road stop in the league. There are 3 absolutes in life...death, taxes and crazy, memorable games between the Rockets and Blazers in Portland. Since I've been calling games full-time on the radio and now TV, there have been so many crazy things happen up there (both good and bad) and the latest game just added another chapter to the story.
3. Which player is impressing the most during the streak?
AS: You can't offer enough superlatives about Clint Capela, who is averaging 15 points, 10 rebounds, and 2 blocks in only 24.7 minutes per game in his last 10 appearances. While bloggers are speculating that the Rockets may look to trade for Deandre Jordan, it is fascinating that we can actually ask if such a move is necessary now that Capela, who started as a project player, has come into his own.
CoA: Clint Capela is making a case for most improved player in the NBA. The kind of numbers he’s putting up on just 25 minutes per game is insane. Everyone’s job got a little easier, and a little more fun, the day Chris Paul got to town. Capela fits so perfectly in this system. You just can’t say enough about the guy.
ER: Chris Paul. He came back and did not miss a beat. I'm surprised at how quick he looks, considering how stiff he looked in the season opener. He hasn't lost a step at all, on either end. His lineups are dominant defensively and he's playing so freely and aggressively on offense it's hard to imagine this is the same guy who slogged through a half-decade in snail's pace basketball in LA. He won Player of the Week and when he's at his best, the team sings.
XE: James Harden. He’s the best player in the NBA, if we don’t allow bonus points for A) Team Record B) Round Number Counting Stats C) Age.
CrA: The easy and obvious answer(s) here is James Harden and Chris Paul...they've both been amazing. However, I'm gonna give some props to Trevor Ariza. Historically when he shoots well and scores, the Rockets are tough to beat and he's been on a tear during the winning streak. He's been hitting in the mid-40's from 3 and has been very disruptive defensively. Plus, he mixed it up with Meyers Leonard and Boogie. Don't mess with Trevor Ariza!
4. How has the streak affected the way the Rockets are perceived throughout the league?
AS: They are finally on other teams' radars and should be taken seriously by all teams. There has always been a perception that the Rockets existed as a gimmick, the mid-2000's Phoenix Suns 2.0, that would flourish in the regular season and flounder in the playoffs. That sentiment should be gone. That said, this team has to show all of us something in the playoffs or it will be all for naught.
CoA: I think people see the Rockets as the greatest threat to GSW. I’m not ready to call a 7 game series between the two yet. I’m not sure you can ask for much different or much better perception. My whole philosophy regarding the genuinely crazy Chris Paul trade was “if you’re not swinging for the fences, what are you doing?” Houston is swinging hard, and it seems like people are taking notice, even if they just want to see a whiff.
ER: Before the streak, meaning before CP3 came back, the perception was the Rockets were a great regular season team that has work to do to integrate Chris Paul. That perception has totally been blown out of the water, except for the "regular season" part. Now, the Rockets are considered a consensus Top 2 team in the league and the best challenger to Golden State. We'll keep hearing people say "Let's seem them do it in the playoffs," and it will continue to be annoying because it will continue to be true.
XE: I think it’s cut down a lot of the "But Whatabout-isms” regarding Chris Paul and James Harden working together. It has forced changes in various media narratives where I think there was a certain lazy reluctance to honestly analyze the Rockets. Of course the people who set narratives and refuse to change them in the face of facts are the same ones who think Triple Double has some deep meaning.
CrA: I personally don't get caught up in the actual and/or perceived media bias against the Rockets that some fans do. They were given the 2nd most national TV games, so the networks and the league obviously thought they were worth watching. The vast majority of the national NBA media that I respect, were always bullish on this team. And, trust me...the Rockets receive the proper amount of respect from opposing players, coaches and front offices. One other note...the Rockets are playing in an era where on one side you have one of the 5 best players of all-time in LeBron James and in my opinion one of the 5 greatest teams ever assembled in Golden State. The bar has been set extremely high and this ultimately is what the Rockets are competing against.
5. How long can the Rockets keep up the win streak?
AS: My heart wants to believe they can make a run at the all-time record but they are far from full strength. The streak could end this week, perhaps against Oklahoma City on Christmas Day. If they get past them with the streak in tact there is a big test against Boston on December 28th. The Rockets will definitely have to fight for the streak.
CoA: I bet the Rockets lose on Christmas and I cry and cry and cry.
ER: We're at 14 now. It looked like the streak might be over against Utah and then the Rockets erupted and turned that game into a blowout. This was the third game in four nights and had all the looks of a schedule loss. The Rockets have two more games until they tie the Celtics for the best streak of the season so far. Their next two games are against the Lakers — probably a W — and on the road against the Thunder on Christmas. The Thunder have been much better of late, and that would be a pretty sweet revenge game for the Thunder. The Rockets are the far better team and I'd hate for this to end at 15, so I'm calling a loss in their next game, on the road against the Wizards, the streak killer. But that's a guess, because the Rockets are unbeatable right now.
XE: Until someone beats them. That sounds flippant, but it is only partially so. The Rockets of the past few years would often defeat themselves with sloppy play, lack of energy, lack of defensive intensity or a desire to win only scoring contests, rather than scrappy games. That happens far less now. The Rockets are now operating on an elite level where they almost never give away wins, the opponent must take them.
CrA: At some point they will lose a game or two and it won't be the end of the world...it happens. Obviously they will be favored the rest of this home-stand, so you have to look at the upcoming road trip. I get that OKC has had it's struggles, but they will be at home for Christmas and that place will be lit! (I'm not that old, but saying lit still doesn't necessarily feel right for me...haha) Plus, the Thunder have been significantly better at home than on the road (they crushed the Warriors at home). If the Rockets navigate their way thru that point, the back-to-back in Boston and Washington won't be a cake walk. But, how awesome would it be if the Rockets are still unbeaten heading in the January 4th game vs Golden State!