The season is over halfway done. The All-Star Break often serves as shorthand for the season’s halfway point, but February 14th is actually well past the 41-game mark. No, the season is already on the other side of the hill, and the league is largely taking shape. Oklahoma City and Indiana demolish all opponents while Milwaukee and Sacramento continue to barely hang on. Are the Houston Rockets members of the elite four, or is it time to hit the panic button?
The good news is that the Rockets are better this year than last year. The bad news is that they aren’t as dominant as many predicted them to be. At 27-15, the Rockets have managed only a fifth seed so far. For a team that wants to see the conference finals, being on pace for barely 50 wins is something of a disappointment. Last Thursday’s game against the Thunder serves as a microcosm of the season to date. Houston shows great potential, but can’t seem to unleash their skill for any extended period of time. Inexperience and nerves take over, and turnovers fall from the skies.
The skies, however, may not be falling themselves. Houston might not be a world-slayer, but they’ve managed a few notable feats. Houston owns a 7-2 record against their own Southwest Division, an impressive total, despite the fact that Dallas owns those two losses. The Rockets have cleaned the clock of the Spurs repeatedly and are capable of taking over games. Unfortunately, Harden in particular tends to overestimate his ability to dominate, resulting in wasted possessions and worrying late-game turnovers.
Equally importantly, Houston had amazing luck with injury last season. This year, the Rockets have fought through injury after injury, including some critical pieces. Patrick Beverley and Ömer Aşık are starter-caliber players who have been sitting for long stretches. Only one player on the team has been ready and suited up every game, and that’s the seemingly indestructible Dwight Howard. Parsons missed time in which the Rockets floundered, and James Harden was sorely missed during his struggles with ankle and foot issues.
So is it time to go nuts? If it wasn’t obvious, the answer is no. Houston is right on track towards a trip to the finals. That trip might take a couple years and a few trades to reach, but it’s on the table. The reason the Rockets have been so disappointing is that they haven’t particularly exceeded expectations. Time and again, general manager Daryl Morey and his Rockets have gone farther faster than anyone could have hoped for. This time, however, it’s not happening again. It’s possible that a major trade changes all of this in the next month. As it stands, however, the Rockets aren’t going above and beyond. This year, good enough might just be good enough.