I came into the NBA season this year thinking about the Houston Rockets exactly what I thought about their newly-signed franchise center Dwight Howard. They were talented for sure, but lacked the kind of cohesion and fortitude that it takes to win an NBA title.
Well, after their latest win, a blowout of the Eastern Conference-leading Indiana Pacers, I might have to start re-calibrating my expectations for this team.
The thing is, in the NBA it’s really hard for me to believe you can actually win a championship. Unlike other sports like football or hockey, where you can make a case for almost half the league every year that if things go their way and they get hot at the end they can hoist their respective trophies, in the NBA, talent and competitive fire trump everything.
We almost never see an underdog team win in the NBA. In fact, we basically never see a team win that doesn’t have at least one elite player, if not two. Going into the season I didn’t think the Rockets had one either, but in fact they might have two.
James Harden has emerged as an elite scorer who can single-handedly win games for Houston. And, much to my amazement, Howard looks like he’s trying at almost 75-80 percent on a nightly basis, enough to instantly make him the best big man in the league.
The Rockets have the best record in the league since the New Year’s Day, but momentum doesn’t work the same way in the NBA. Remember a few years ago when a similar Rockets team overacheived in the second half of the season and ripped off 22-straight wins, then the second-longest streak in league history? Yeah, well that team didn’t even make it out of the first round of the playoffs that year.
You need more than momentum to go all the way in the NBA. The playoffs are a long grind that will expose any team that has a glaring weakness. Consistency could be the weakness in this team — only time will tell.
I’m still not sold on the fact that they have what it takes to go head-to-head with the NBA’s elite teams in a seven-game series when all is on the line, but wins like they had against the Pacers, one of those elite teams, certainly has to make me take a real close look.