For the first time in three years, the Houston Rockets will be in the NBA playoffs.
With two games remaining on their regular season schedule, Houston will finish as either the sixth or seventh seed in the Western Conference. Depending on how this week plays out, they will face the Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs or Denver Nuggets.
Houston finished over .500 in each of the past three seasons, but failed to win enough games to reach the postseason. In the offseason, the organization made a few major personnel moves to bolster their lineup.
The biggest changes to the Rockets roster came in their backcourt. The tandem of Kevin Martin and Kyle Lowry was replaced by James Harden and Jeremy Lin. The two have become one of the best guard pairing sin the NBA.
From the start of the season, Harden instantly became a top player in the league. After Houston sent a package involving Martin to Oklahoma City in exchange for Harden, the guard was able to become a superstar, out from under the shadow of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
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In his first two games, Harden put up 82 total points and made the rest of the league aware that he was joining the elite level of NBA players. He’s averaging 26 points, 5.9 assists and 4.8 rebounds per game. The MVP award will almost certainly go to LeBron James, but Harden could finish among the top five.
Lin’s impact may not be as pronounced, but he has been a key contributor in Houston’s return to the playoffs. After the Miami Heat eliminated the New York Knicks in last year’s first round, it was assumed by most that Lin would re-sign in the Big Apple. A year later, though, he is helping lead another team to the playoffs.
At the beginning of the season, Lin received criticism for not being able to duplicate the success he had at the height of “Linsanity.” However, the guard has improved each month, helping run an offense that ranks first in the NBA.
The 24-year-old is playing especially well at the perfect time for Houston. He’s averaging 17.7 points and 7.1 assists per game in April.
The Rockets will be an underdog in the first round, but they may have a chance to pull off the upset with a starting backcourt that can compete against any defense.