Forgive me if I sound like a typical prisoner of the moment, but I’m not sure I’ve ever been as amazed with an NBA conference as I am with the 2013-14 Western Conference.
Right now, nine teams–yes, nine teams–in the West are at least seven games better than .500. And of those nine teams, I sincerely believe that eight–all but Memphis–have a legitimate opportunity to reach the Western Conference Finals.
But, for some reason or another, there seems to be a national obsession with only four of the teams.
Everywhere I turn, whether that be to ESPN or to social media or to the rest of the Internet, there is nonstop talk and discussion regarding all four.
I hear about the Oklahoma City Thunder, led by Kevin Durant, who–according to some–is already the runaway league MVP. I hear about Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and the rest of Lob City. I hear about everyone’s favorite team to watch, the Golden State Warriors, headed by everyone’s favorite player to watch, Steph Curry. I even hear about the young, upstart Portland Trail Blazers, who continue to shock the world with each win.
I’m not here to suggest that OKC, the Clippers, Golden State, and Portland don’t deserve to be commended, but, with each passing day, I become more and more mystified at how the rest of the Western Conference continues to get ignored. And while I could point out that the defending Western Conference champion San Antonio Spurs have already surpassed the 40-win mark or that the Phoenix Suns have a real shot at catching the Clippers in the Pacific, I’m going to instead focus on another team–a team that, despite playing better than anyone in the league right now, is still forgotten about.
That team? The Houston Rockets, currently at 38-18, currently winners of nine of their last ten games, and currently flying under the radar.
Why aren’t the Rockets getting attention? I don’t know. Maybe they are and I’m just not seeing it, but it feels like they are being overlooked by most NBA fans, experts, and analysts. What I do know is this: As of this moment, I’m leaning towards picking the Rockets, not the Thunder, to represent the Western Conference in the 2014 NBA Finals.
Understand, however, that I haven’t been on Houston’s bandwagon all season long. I’m not afraid to admit that I had my doubts about how Dwight Howard and James Harden would mesh.
Two months ago, if you had even suggested that I would pick the Rockets to beat out the Thunder, San Antonio Spurs and the Clippers, I likely would have called you crazy. But, at the same time, the Rockets were a completely different team two months ago. While Howard worked to get acclimated to Harden and his new teammates, the Rockets struggled early in the season and were just 21-13 at 2013′s conclusion.
But as Dwight gradually became more comfortable in his new role, Houston began to win games at a much faster pace. Since New Year’s Day, the Rockets hold the best record (17-5) not only in the West, but in the entire NBA. They are also 6-2 against the top eight Western Conference teams during that span, which includes a loss to Oklahoma City that never should have been a loss–Houston blew a 14-point halftime lead after scoring a pathetic 19 total points in the final two quarters.
And it’s not just that the Rockets are winning or even whom they are beating that proves to me their status as a contender, it’s how they are built.