Friday, December 26, 2008

Rockets a Top 4 Team in the League?

During an epic Lakers-Celtics Christmas special yesterday, former Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy put four teams in the category of legitimate contenders... Celtics, Lakers, Cavs and... the Houston Rockets.

Van Gundy, has been a rare broadcasting proponent of Houston and its players since joining the team of Mark Jackson and Mike Breen on ABC--in that, he actually defends them or offers perspective. His experience coaching in Houston offers such perspective or maybe it skews it. That could go either way but the statement wasn't exactly contested on the broadcast. So the question is, why doesn't it seem Rockets fans are as convinced as Van Gundy?

Houston currently stands at 19-10, good for the second-best record in the West (tied with San Antonio) and they've won 8-11 in December. Only three of those teams, however, are plus-.500 and against those teams, Houston is only 1-2. So it might be easy for the more skeptical fan to write off this December stretch as a weak schedule but a deeper look into the numbers may also be revealing.

All the other three teams Van Gundy mentioned are in the Top 10 in the league in scoring, with Los Angeles leading the NBA. Houston stands 15th at 98.3 ppg. Boston and Cleveland are 1 and 2 respectively in opponents PPG. Houston kicks in at a respectable 8th. And while Los Angeles may only be 14th on the list, their 9.4 point differential is good for 3rd in the league... behind Cleveland (12.7) and Boston (10.3). Which should be the most telling figure. These teams are dominating the league. Houston is respectable again at 5th (4.3) in point differential but they have neither put away teams consistently or looked particularly dominant on the court.

Boston, Cleveland and Los Angeles are already playing at a Championship-caliber level and winning each in some record-setting pace. Houston is not. They still haven't quite clicked, they haven't achieved that visible on-court harmony, that spiritual and unspoken rapport of Champions. And yet, they are still 19-10, still carrying an awful lot of talent. So, depending on where we stand on half a glass of water, Van Gundy's inclusion of Houston on his short list of contenders could be an optimistic look at a team finally starting to play well (but that still has yet to reach potential) or the empty raves of a somewhat delusional former coach... who still lives in Houston.

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