Many have said, including one Stephen A. Smith, that the Rockets could not win the title this year. The main reason for their criticism is because they believed James Harden’s scoring could actually hurt the team.
Yet, through the first two games of the Rockets’ series against the Jazz, Houston showed no signs of slowing down. In fact, the way they played has some questioning if the Warriors can fend off Houston.
Just looking at last year, the Rockets may have beat the Warriors. Chris Paul did not play in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals, and the Warriors won that game and next won the Finals.
Now, this year, it looks like the Rockets are on a blazing path for revenge. In Game 1 of the opening round, Houston trounced Utah 122-90. In Game 2 Wednesday, Houston won big again, 118-98. In both games, Harden has been the only player to score more than 20 points (29 in Game 1, 32 in Game 2).
While no other Houston player scored more than 20, in each game, Harden has had his support. In Game 1, six other Rockets scored at least 10 points. In Game 2, three other Rockets scored more than 10 points.
Houston has been able to let Harden score so much against Utah, a team that cannot threaten the Rockets the same way the Warriors could. While Utah is a good defensive team, Houston’s offense is just too good.
There is also something to be said about going up 2-0 in the series with the home crowd to
help. The Jazz could make the series even when Game 3 and 4 are played out back in Utah.
But, for now, Harden’s explosive scoring is fine to carry the Rockets to two straight victories.
The presumed Houston series victory sets up the presumed Warriors series victory. Despite the Warriors losing in a historic way to the Clippers (at home nonetheless) in Game 2, everyone thinks the loss was a small blip for the defending champions.
Should the rematch be set up between Houston and Golden State, will Houston win this time? That will certainly be an interesting series to watch.
Golden State will still play the way it has, which is always dangerous. The Rockets lost two of their key defensive players, Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute, so the Warriors may be able to score easier this year.
But, with the way Harden is scoring, he may be enough to tip the scales in Houston’s favor. And, despite no other Rocket scoring 20-plus in these first two games, Harden’s supporting cast will be able to against the Warriors.
This Rockets team may not have the same defensive prowess as it did last year, but its scoring may be enough to slay the mighty Warriors, who have looked more vulnerable than ever this year.