The first third of the 2017-2018 NBA season is almost complete, and the Houston Rockets (21-4) haven’t shown any signs of slowing down. The team maintained their spot atop the NBA standings with a 130-123 win over the New Orleans Pelicans (14-14) Monday night, looking every bit like the biggest threat to the defending champion Golden State Warriors (22-6).
That title has belonged to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers (19-8) over the last three years, having beaten Golden State in the 2016 NBA Finals and becoming the only team to win a game against the Warriors in the 2017 playoffs. The Boston Celtics (23-6) added Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward in the offseason, hoping to replace Cleveland as Golden State’s NBA Finals’ opponent. Some thought the Oklahoma City Thunder (12-14) might actually give the Warriors their toughest challenge, now that they’ve got their own Big 3 of Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony.
Houston has been more impressive than all of those teams. That includes the Celtics, who have a three-game lead over the Cavs for the East’s best record. Playing without Irving Monday, Boston lost by 23 points to the Chicago Bulls (6-20) and suffered their second defeat in three games.
Missing their star point guard for half of the season hasn’t prevented the Rockets from being a half-game up on the Warriors in the West and three games ahead of the San Antonio Spurs (19-8) in the Southwest Division. James Harden picked up the slack while Chris Paul recovered from a knee injury and has probably positioned himself as the favorite in the MVP race.
After finishing second in the MVP voting in two of the last three years, Harden leads the NBA with 32.0 points per game and ranks second with 9.5 assists per game. He’s shooting 40.6 percent from three-point range while averaging nearly 11 attempts per contest. Often criticized for his defense, Harden is fifth with 1.88 steals per contest.
⬇️ #NBAStandings pic.twitter.com/PtXPB4tG63
— NBAers (@nbaers82) December 12, 2017
With both Harden and Paul healthy, Houston has been unbeatable. The Rockets are 11-0 when Paul plays, winning by an average of 16 points. Houston won in Golden State in Paul’s debut with the team in the season opener.
As well as Houston’s addition of Paul has worked out, that’s how poorly Oklahoma City’s offseason moves have gone. After losing by 13 points to the lowly Charlotte Hornets (10-16), the Thunder don’t even hold one of the conference’s eight playoff spots.
“For the talent that we have, obviously this is not where we want to be,” George said after Monday’s loss, via ESPN.com. “But we’re going to remain optimistic, though, about the future and what we can do. Once we can find a way to really do it night in and night out, it’s no panic mode, but we have to start playing better. It’s getting to a point where we can’t allow ourselves to be at this point. We can say we’re going to figure it out, we can say all that. But at some point it’s gotta stop.”
While things can change, Oklahoma City would be a heavy underdog in a first-round series against Houston or Golden State if they snuck into the playoffs. The Thunder rank second in defensive efficiency, but they are tied for 23rd in offensive efficiency.
Golden State ranks first in offense and fourth in defense. Houston is the only other team that ranks in the top six in both categories.
James Harden, pictured at Talking Stick Resort Arena on Nov. 16, 2017 in Phoenix, has led the Houston Rockets to the top of the 2017 NBA standings. Photo: Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Thank you for taking the time to read this article. I hope you like it
christian louboutin .