So, it’s probably time to bring up the Houston Rockets.
Everybody knows what they did over the summer, but it’s going to take some victories over Western Conference elites to really be considered a top-4 team*. Saturday night’s 112-106 victory over the Spurs – in San Antonio – fits the bill.
James Harden led the charge. In his second game back since a mild foot injury held him out for a week of games, Harden dropped 31 points (on 10-19 shooting, with seven rebounds and six assists), hitting all of the major buckets that you’d expect from a superstar. He was joined by constant partner-in-crime Chandler “Stole Your Girl” Parsons, who dropped 25 points (with 4-8 outside shooting, three rebounds, five assists, a block and two steals).
Dwight Howard had a solid, if underwhelming night. He dropped 11 points and hauled in 16 rebounds, and posted a +/- of +5. He still makes a positive impact even when he’s not getting shots off (he only took six shot attempts as San Antonio tried several “hack-a-Dwight” attempts), but let’s be honest: that big contract wasn’t put on the table to get an effort that Omer Asik would have turned in last year.
Really, Howard is the key here. Shocker! He’s been averaging a meager 12.4 points per contest over the last five outings, but seemingly every other player on the team – Harden, ChanPar, Jeremy Lin, Patrick Beverly – has an upward trajectory. And they can all shoot.
If Dwight can just regain a bit of that Orlando form – which, while not necessarily dominant, was enough to lead a team full of shooters to the – Houston is a top-tier team. Until then, they are incomplete.
* — Seriously, the West is as loaded as ever, even with former elites Los Angeles and Dallas trying to figure themselves out. The Spurs, Clippers, Thunder and Warriors. Rank them now. It’s incredibly difficult.