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The Race to the Top: Can the Rockets Stay Ahead?



Like it or not, this has been the best we've seen of the Rockets. Can they sustain it?

Ever since Kevin Durant made the jump from the Oklahoma City Thunder and joined the Golden State Warriors, it made the Warriors a lot harder to beat. To begin with, the Warriors have been a championship-winning team since Steve Kerr took over as head coach and yet, they blew a 3-1 lead in the Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers and that was one of the reasons why the Warriors signed Kevin Durant right after that embarrassing championship series. And that made the Warriors as one of the most hated teams in the NBA. And yet, they were ruling the Western Conference for 3 seasons already.

This season? Things might be about to change.

Sure, the Warriors are very much in contention for a 4th consecutive trip to the NBA Finals assuming they beat the Houston Rockets to it. Why? If you are to look at the standings right now, it's not the Warriors who are top the West. It's James Harden, Chris Paul and the rest of the Houston Rockets who are holding the top spot in the West with a 44-13 record, half a game ahead of the Warriors and currently, the record in the NBA.

In fact, the Rockets are on a surge as they will enter the second half of the season with a 10-game winning streak, making them the second-hottest team in the league next to the Utah Jazz who are riding on an 11-game winning streak of their own.


Can the Rockets keep the top spot until April?

It depends on how they will improve on their flaws especially on the defensive side of the game as they are giving up 105 points per game which ranks them in 12th place. Also, they gotta learn to take smarter shots, shots that have a higher percentage of hitting the basket, as their field goal shooting is at 46%- 13th in the league. Sure, the Rockets are second in team scoring, averaging 114 points per game but they need to improve overall especially if they want to keep the top spot and eventually, the best record in the NBA.

Another factor that will determine whether or not the Rockets will beat the Warriors for the West's top spot is how James Harden and Chris Paul will perform during the last stretch of the regular season. 

To begin with, James Harden is the leading candidate for this season's MVP  and is also the league's leading scorer with his 31 points per game average. He's also the second-best passer, averaging 9 assists per game. Despite the numbers, his shooting percentages have been one of his major problems this season on top of his inability to defend. James Harden is shooting 44% from the field and 38% from the three-point line. 

Chris Paul? The Rockets are 28-1 this season when CP3, Harden and Clint Capela are all playing. Like it or not, Chris Paul's arriving in Houston has brought more stability especially at the point guard spot. It gives Mike D' Antoni the kind of a point guard who can run the run-and-gun offense like a god. And that's what separates CP3 from point guards like Kyrie Irving and Steph Curry. Unlike the latter two, Chris Paul is a natural point guard plus an explosive scorer too. He is averaging 19 points and 8 assists per game this season while also leading the Rockets in steals with 1.8 steals per game. If anything, Chris Paul may be the missing piece to James Harden' championship aspirations and who knows, the two might lead the Rockets to their first Finals trip in a long, long time.


Conclusion

While many things can still happen from this point on until the start of the playoffs, consistency, and health plus tons of improvements will help the Rockets as they are already on the pace to finish with the best record in franchise history. It's already a possibility that James Harden may be the next Rocket to win the MVP.  Championship? Dethrone the Warriors first then we talk. 

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