The Rockets have regained their strength. Chris Paul and Clint Capela have returned from their injury. Kenneth Faried, recently added, played well. James Harden is still among the top three nominees for the MVP, but if Houston is on the rise, are the Rockets the best team to defeat the Warriors in the playoffs?
Later The Crossover podcastChris Mannix and Rohan Nadkarni wonder if the Rockets are legitimate threats to the Western Conference.
(Listen to the latest Crossover podcast here. The following transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Chris Mannix: Let's talk about Rockets. They went to Golden State on Saturday and won without James Harden. Chris Paul has a great game – they start scoring goals – the Rockets look more and more like the team we saw last year. Do you consider that this win against Golden State is unique or do you look at the fact that they have a pretty good performance against Golden State in recent years – they were 3-2 in the final of the Conference of West last year, is this Rockets team a legitimate threat to Golden State in the West?
Rohan Nadkarni: The win against Golden State on Saturday night means absolutely nothing. Every year we say that with the warriors: a team beats them and we look like "Oh my God". Just look at what the Warriors did in Denver when people like me were making noise, and the Warriors said you know what, we're going to be looking at a regular season game and they've established a historic first quarter.
As soon as James Harden was dismissed, I knew that the Rockets were winning this game. That's what the Warriors said: "If you do not give a s, you do not do it. James Harden has been incredible, there is no doubt about it and we can debate if he will be exhausted by the playoffs, and it was encouraging to see Chris Paul play a big game. Chris Paul last year, pound-a-pound was an MVP level player. He just did not play enough and last season was exceptional. It was not quite the same this year, not just from the injury perspective, but on the ground it did not have the same impact. He has already taken a step back this year. But what bothers me the Rockets is the defense.
They are in the last third of the league. Last year, they were in the top 10 defensive teams. They somehow persuaded Jeff Bzdelik to retire to repair the defense and it did not really work. This will help when Clint Capela is in perfect health and I think Iman Shumpert can help you. Can they find another type on the buyout market? But I think the Rockets' success against the Warriors last year was based on the fact that they built their entire defense from the first day of the training camp to compete against Golden State. They did a great job against the Warriors in the final phase of the Western Conference, eliminating them from their game, forcing Kevin Durant's many isolations. I just do not see it from them this year and that's why I can not call them a legitimate threat.
As great as Harden was, when he hit that three-point winning game and he said on the ground that he was very mean to Draymond Green. I was like, "Yeah it's great. It's cool like hell. I like the Rockets ". But I simply do not trust a defense of the last 10 that beats Golden State in the playoffs.
Mannix: I do not have the numbers for what this team is with Faried or just the full range. This is the team I'm looking for because there is only a limited source of information on the Faried, Rivers, Harden, Paul, Capela range. This is the range to which we must see if they can defend at a high level. But they are 3-0 against Golden State. And Golden State is going to have a problem with DeMarcus Cousins - because Cousins are dying to death. And watching this Rockets game, it was just Chris Paul's turn on the DeMarcus Cousins. Some of them were not worthy of mention, but that's what they do all day.
And DeMarcus Cousins is already starting to moan a bit about his role on this team – not to end the games, but the reality is that if you can not defend the game at a high level, you can not to be outside. It must be a smaller range with Draymond Green or [Kevon] Looney to five. I'm just wondering if this becomes a source of friction within this team. Even though DeMarcus Cousins has said what it takes to be part of this team and rehabilitate his body, he can not play against leaders like Chris Paul, because they will put him in cartridges until the Sun lights up.