James Harden Chris Paul Rockets
James Harden #13 and Chris Paul #3 of the Houston Rockets (R) talk on the bench in the first half against the Washington Wizards at Capital One Arena on November 26, 2018 in Washington, DC. Rob Carr/Getty Images

The Houston Rockets have easily been the biggest surprise of the 2018-2019 NBA season, and it hasn't been the good kind. After leading the league in wins and taking the Golden State Warriors to seven games in the Western Conference Finals, the team is near the bottom of the standings.

Houston’s 128-108 loss to the Dallas Mavericks at home Wednesday night extended their losing streak to four games. The Rockets are 9-11 through 20 games and 1.5 games out of the No.8 seed. Only the Phoenix Suns have a worse record than Houston in the West. The Rockets are six losses away from matching the same number of defeats they had all of last season.

The majority of the Rockets’ struggles can be traced to injuries. Chris Paul missed his third straight game with a hamstring injury Wednesday. The point guard was suspended for two games at the beginning of the season, and Houston is 0-5 when Paul isn’t in the lineup.

James Harden missed two games as well, last month. Paul was active for those contests, but Houston was still defeated both times.

The Rockets are 9-4 when both Paul and Harden play. That’s a 56-win pace over the course of an entire season, and a reason for Houston to be hopeful.

Paul’s injury history, however, shouldn’t give the Rockets much comfort. The veteran only played 58 games in last year’s regular season, and a hamstring injury in Game 5 of the conference finals might have prevented the team from winning a title. Paul played 61 games in 2016-2017 and 74 games in 2015-2016.

It might not be long before Paul is back on the court, though the team wants to make sure he’s completely healthy when he suits up again. He’s listed as day-to-day.

In such a competitive conference, every loss matters. The Rockets visit the San Antonio Spurs Friday and host the Chicago Bulls Saturday before going on a three-game road trip. Houston won’t have an easy time digging themselves out of an early hole if this skid continues.

Harden has been doing his best to keep Houston competitive. He leads the league in scoring with 31.1 points per game.

The 2018 NBA MVP isn’t quite as efficient as he was a year ago, but he’s still averaging an impressive 1.48 points per field-goal attempt. His 8.7 assists and 5.6 rebounds per game are right near last season’s numbers.

If the last few games have proven anything, it’s that Harden can’t carry the Rockets by himself. His 40 points and 13 assists weren’t enough to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers, who have the worst record in the Eastern Conference. Harden somehow managed to post a 54-8-13 in a loss to the Washington Wizards. He had a triple-double in Wednesday’s loss to Dallas.

While he ranks first in points and third in assists, Harden leads the league in turnovers by a mile with 5.9 per game. The guard has the league’s top usage rate.

Only the Wizards and Cavaliers are giving up more points per possession than the Rockets. Houston was seventh in defensive rating last season.