The Houston Rockets defeated the Denver Nuggets at home on Monday night with a final score of 125 to 113. While just an early-January regular season game, these two teams could be seeing more of each other come post-season.
In beating the first place Nuggets, the Rockets extended their hot streak to seven wins in their last eight games. After an average start, they have improved to 23-16 on the year and currently sit at fifth place in the Western Conference.
Reigning MVP James Harden continued his dominance with a monster stat line of 32 points, five rebounds and 14 assists, moving the ball well in point guard Chris Paul’s absence. Clint Capella added 31 points and nine rebounds, while Gerald Green and P.J. Tucker chipped in 21 apiece.
Nuggets Center Nikola Jokić led the team, scoring 24 points and grabbing 13 rebounds, while five other Nuggets scored in double figures. Denver has surprised many with their strong start to the year, but didn’t have an answer for the Rockets’ 22 3-pointers. Plus, it’s nearly impossible to beat Houston when Harden makes shots like this.
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) January 8, 2019
Possible Playoff Series?
Last night’s game may have been a sign of things to come for basketball in May. Denver and Houston could potentially see each other in the second round of the playoffs.
Even with their five-game winning streak snapped, Denver, led by Jokić, a likely All-Star, is still the best team in the Western Conference. With the Warriors still struggling by their own standards, the Nuggets could very well hang onto the first seed when the season ends.
If they stayed in the same spot they are now, Houston could collide with Denver in the second round as a first vs. fourth or fifth seed matchup.
While Denver is a very talented team, they are still young and have yet to turn the corner and make the post-season. They have missed the playoffs all three seasons under Head Coach Mike Malone, but finished above .500 last season, winning 46 games.
Coming one win away from the NBA Finals last year, anything but a Western Conference title would be a failure for the Rockets. Harden and Co. feel like they would have won the series against Golden State if Paul was healthy for games 6 and 7. Houston would likely win a series between these two teams, but it would be a very close matchup.
A potential game-changer in this series could be the return of veteran guard Isaiah Thomas. Thomas, whom the Nuggets signed to a one-year, $1.5 million contract this offseason, is still recovering from hip surgery. If Thomas could return healthy and mesh well with the team, his scoring ability could match that of Harden’s, and potentially give Denver an edge.