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The Houston Rockets are for real

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After getting Chris Paul back from injury, the Rockets have gone an impressive winning streak. They’ll likely be the Warriors’ toughest opponent in the Western Conference Playoffs.

Houston Rockets v Golden State Warriors Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The Golden State Warriors aren’t the top seed in the Western Conference right now. That’s okay, and is likely not going to last, but it is still noteworthy.

The Houston Rockets have come out of the gates with a 17-4 record, and have done so mostly without Chris Paul. James Harden has had one of the best seasons of any player in the NBA, averaging 31.5 points, 9.8 assists, and 5.2 rebounds per game. He’s shown for the second season in a row that he can do it all offensively.

Since Chris Paul came back from injury, the Rockets have won six straight by double digits. They’re integrating him into the uptempo, gunslinging Houston offense quickly and lethally.

The Rockets’ supporting cast of Eric Gordon, Clint Capela, Trevor Ariza, Ryan Anderson, Luc Mbah a Moute, and P.J. Tucker are no joke as well. With the exception of Anderson, all of them will be able to defend and switch capably against the Warriors’ offensive onslaught.

P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute will be especially important against the Warriors. If they can provide just the littlest bit of spacing or cutting offensively, they’ll be important to contain Kevin Durant and Draymond Green. Their toughness is important for a team that has been previously criticized as “soft.”

So far this season, the Rockets have a 10.9 net rating, second in the league to the Warriors. They have the second best offense and fifth best defense, a combination that marks them as a true contender.

The Rockets have centered their offense around shooting the three-pointer: they’re prepared to break the record for most threes taken in a season by a huge margin. Add in the fact that they can always have an All-NBA distributor in either Paul or Harden (or both!) running the point to the find the open man on the perimeter, and that’s a lot to handle for any defense.

The Warriors lost to the Rockets in a weird, unusual season opener, and I don’t know how much we can take away from that one game. In future matchups this season, I’d be watching out for how the Warriors defend James Harden, contest three-pointers, and get Kevin Durant good looks to score.

There’s a chance that the Warriors don’t end up with the best record in the West this season. That alone should be an alarm that maybe, just maybe, Houston is worth treating like a true contender.