Starting out the 2017-2018 season, the NBA odds for the season told a familiar tale; Golden State and Cleveland were favorites to win it all again. However, as the season has progressed, the Houston Rockets have worked their way into the equation, largely in thanks to a MVP-worthy season by point guard James Harden.
Harden has compiled a impressive collection of stats this year, leading his team in points, assists and steals per game while also leading the league in overall points with 1,831(the next closest player is LeBron, with 1774). He also has a 30.45 Player Efficiency Rating, which is a historically high number for that metric.
Harden has also picked up his play defensively, which is something he has struggled with throughout his whole career. Although still not among league leaders, he has upped his numbers in blocks and steals from last year. Harden finished the 2016-17 season averaging 1.5 steals and .5 blocks per game, and this year he is at 1.9 for steals and .7 for blocks.
Combined with the efforts of guard Chris Paul, who has put up respectable numbers himself, being second overall on the team in assists per game with 8.1 (compared with Harden’s 8.8) and 18.8 points per game (Harden has 31.1), the two have helped establish the Rockets as one of the main contenders for this year’s title.
Houston started the season out at 16/1 odds to win it all. To date the Rockets are 52-14 through the first 66 games of the season, including a 17 game winning streak that started on January 30th and lasted all the way until last week when they finally lost 108-105 to the Raptors. The streak was the fourth-longest in team history. The Rockets’ stellar play has vaulted them past the Spurs and the Celtics in the conversation for a 2018 title. The Rockets haven’t won a championship since Rudy Tomjanovich lead the team to back to back titles back in 94′ and 95′.
In head to head competition with Golden State and Cleveland this year, the Rockets have come out on top every time with the exception of a 114-124 loss to the Warriors on January 4th. Otherwise, the Rockets have convincingly won all of the other contests, dominating Cleveland with a 120-88 victory back on February 31 after their initial 117-113 victory back in November. Versus Golden State they inched out a 122-121 victory back on October 17th and a 116-108 win back in January.
The Rockets’ ascent this year means that Golden State’s stranglehold on the Western Conference is coming loose. While they are still heavy favorites to win the NBA title this year, they will have another team gunning for them come playoff time. If all goes as expected, the basketball world will be treated to two highly anticipated matchups this year, as the Western Conference Finals will most certainly come down to the Warriors and the Rockets, the winner of which will more than likely face either Cleveland, Boston, or Toronto in the Final.