Every season, some element of the western conference playoff race stays tense all the way down to the end. This year, there are four races, any of which might be decided on the last day. With the Rockets embroiled in one of those contests, what will the last few weeks of the season look like for the brutal west?
He plays with the style my 13 year-old self aspired to, while making decisions in a way that only my 32 year-old self can fully appreciate. He is not the first NBA player to fully integrate style and efficiency, just the first for which that combination has so thoroughly resonated for me. I watch James Harden play and get to enjoy the full spectrum of basketball experiences. He is, at his essence, what I want basketball to be.
I observed in the preview earlier this morning that a lot of things would have to go right for the Rockets preview. However, that was written on the assumption that James Harden would suit up tonight, and when it was announced only a few hours before the game that he would be replaced by James Anderson in the starting lineup due to a reaggravated foot injury, I expected a complete, total blowout. Even when Houston took the early lead, I could not help but wait for the other shoe to drop, for the Clippers to finally wake up and pound a weaker team missing its superstar shooting guard into dust. After the first quarter, when the Clippers had a one point lead thanks to 7 early Houston turnovers, I expected them to continue along that road towards victory.
Instead, aside from a brief scare early in the fourth quarter, this was a dominating Rockets team performance. No Rocket had a performance which was jaw-dropping or utterly unexpected, as even Francisco Garcia’s 15 points was something most fans knew he could do. Instead, they all hustled, played defense, and fought a far better team that wilted under the relentless pressure which the Rockets gave.
In the aftermath of the victory over San Antonio last Sunday, I believed that winning one of the next three games, during what has seemingly been dubbed “Hell Week”, would all but guarantee a Houston playoff berth for the first time since 2009. Unfortunately, a slow start against Indiana and a total inability to figure out the All-Star Memphis frontcourt means that if the Rockets wish to accomplish that, they will have to do it on the tail end of a back-to-back against their toughest opponent yet, one whom the Rockets have lost to twice and not beaten this season.