Do Not Drink the Rocket Kool-Aid, Just Yet

by Gus Griffin






The Houston Rockets are very very good! Their winning streak is at 15 and counting. They have the best record in basketball, which if maintained would give them home court throughout the playoffs. They have won two of three from the defending champion Warriors. James Harden would get my vote for MVP up to this point.

Yet, if you tell me that Houston Rocket Kool-Aid taste like a team that will win the NBA title, I am just not ready to drink.

In no particular order, I am going to outline the four reasons why I refuse to drink:

When has a Mike D’Antoni coached team played enough defense to be a threat to win an NBA title? The answer is NEVER! It is a highly entertaining brand of basketball, without a doubt. His teams remind me of Big 12 college football teams; high scoring, very little defense, and as much as you may want to believe that they can win it all, you know in your heart of hearts, they will not beat defensive-minded SEC teams.

Another concern is that no eventual champion team has ever blown a 26-point lead to lose a game as the Rockets did earlier in the year to Boston. Some will cite the Cavaliers blowing the same lead last year against the Hawks. The difference is that they blew that after having won a title. It is indefensible in either case but Cleveland already achieved the essential goal. Houston has not reached that level.

Yet another reason is James Harden’s Game 6-elimination performance against San Antonio last year. After a disappointing overtime loss in game 5, in which Harden was great with 33 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists. After averaging 20 shots in the first 5 games, at home in game 6 he only took 11 shots, making 2 to score 10 points. It is one thing to go 9 of 30 with the season on the line. At least we could say he left everything on the floor. However, this effort, in my mind, can only be classified as quitting. We have seen great regular season performers across sports that simply did not duplicate the performance in the post season. The best example is Dodgers Ace Clayton Kershaw. Even as a die-hard Giants fan, I freely acknowledge Kershaw as being the best….regular season pitcher in baseball. In the playoffs, he has simply been subpar.

The last reason, which if I were ordering would be the first: The Golden State Warriors. We should not over think this folks. If not for Draymond Green’s suspension in The Finals two years ago, the Warriors likely would be pursuing their fourth straight NBA title.  That ain’t luck. The simple reality is that they are that much better than everyone else. It is the only team that need not play its best to win it all this year. Health is a far greater threat than the Rockets or any other team, to the Warriors.

We have seen with LeBron James, especially in 2015, that even a Herculean effort by a team’s best player can at best stretch the series to six games….and that was before Durant came to Golden State. Even if you believe Harden is ready to play at that level, why would you believe it would be enough?

So in spite of these reasons to doubt, why are so many ready to crown the Rockets? I suspect it is Golden State Warrior fatigue. As sports fans, we prefer some degree of suspense about who will eventually wear the crown. With that in mind, people want to believe that there is a worthy challenger. In wanting that, many do what the human mind often does, which is to embellish evidence to validate its hopes.

What is the evidence that the Rockets are ready? The addition of Chris Paul? He is a great player and I believe is unfairly blamed for the failure of his teams to advance in the playoffs……but the fact is that they have not. Would it be the 15 game winning streak? Excluding this year’s Celtics, 11 other teams in NBA history have won 15 straight that did not win the title. James Harden? How can you trust him after San Antonio last year?

Therefore, as much as I want a worthy challenger for the title, I am holding off on anointing the Rockets as the answer. Maybe I should have been born in Missouri because you have to SHOW ME and the Rockets have not done so yet.


Gus Griffin, for War Room Sports

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