Every team in the NBA is chasing the Golden State Warriors in some form or fashion. For the rebuilding squads, the Warriors are used as the template for how to approach team building and, even if Golden State’s roster construction is virtually impossible to replicate, teams are right to aspire to greatness. For the teams near the top of the league, though, the Warriors are seen as the team to beat and the defending champions sit with a 41-12 record despite operating on pure cruise control to this point in the campaign.
In a normal season, the Houston Rockets would be that team. James Harden, Chris Paul and company emerge from Super Bowl weekend with a dazzling 38-13 record and, if anything, the team has been even more impressive than that mark dictates. Houston has compiled only three losses all season with both Harden and Paul in the lineup and, without the Warriors operating as the super team to end all super teams, the Rockets would likely be seen as a significant title favorite.
Houston lands second in the NBA in both net rating (+8.0) and offensive rating (112.5) and, while the Warriors are significantly better on the defensive end, the Rockets have made great strides to the tune of becoming a top-10 unit. That combination is devastating to the point where many are openly whispering about the Rockets and at least the potential to provide Golden State with a worthy adversary in the Western Conference Finals. Frankly, that sentiment doesn’t exist anywhere else, especially given the immense struggles of the only Eastern Conference team (Cleveland) that has proven the ability to scare the Warriors.
Until the Rockets operate at this level in the playoffs, it is reasonable to be skeptical. In the same breath, more than half of the 2017-2018 season is in the rear view mirror and, at the moment, it is quite clear that Houston is the second-best team in the league and the gap between them and the rest is significant.
The Rockets won’t be catching the Warriors (at least this week) in our Dime Power Rankings but the rest of the list can be found here. Let’s roll.