I’m not saying they don’t care about defense, I’d argue it might not be a focal point.
James Harden has been on an absolute tear this season and his production can be attributed to two huge off-season moves. One, the acquisition of Mike D’Antoni, a head coach who has focused on the offensive side of the ball and the development of high-tempo, high-scoring offenses. And two, along with the move of D’Antoni, we were introduced to #PointHarden, which allowed our bearded assassin to not only be the primary ball-handler in the starting offense but allowed the ASU product to distribute the rock to awaiting shooters. Most basketball fans can recall the pairing of D’Antoni and the Phoenix Suns where his teams were always competing in the Western Conference for championships. Personally, I think the Suns were a “Robert Horry Hip Check” away from a championship until the NBA handed out their quite questionable suspensions.
The Rockets, as of right now are averaging 114.6 PTS per game, with an offensive RTG of 115.5. Thus, the D’Antoni effect has been taking place all season and the Rockets are seeing dividends on offense. But the formula that has been installed by D’Antoni leaves a lapse in the Rockets defense as they don’t seem to have the same mentality on the other end. After ignoring hardcore defensive principles and philosophies in his tenure with the New York Knicks, he made sure the same mistake would not happen during his coaching stay with the Rockets by hiring Jeff Bzdelik to make sure losses are being taken on the defensive end.
In the off-season, the team preached that the defense would be better, and while this has been the case in some outings by the team. There have been some games where it seems like stopping the other team from scoring wasn’t the focal point. Not many teams in NBA history have won a championship without a top-10 defensive rating. And for the Rockets to compete this season, that would have to be an integral part of their assumed success.
Harden will carry the team into the playoffs and will definitely compete in the Western conference but it will take some secondary help and defense to ascend to the next level. With the departure of Dwight Howard, Houston brought in Ryan Andersen, who I’ve deemed to be one of the better shooters in the league for a long time and Eric Gordon who helps but may not be a championship piece.
As for MVP talks, Russell Westbrook is in the conversation but personally, I think Harden should receive the honor. Before 2016 ended, Harden left us with a 53-point triple double against The New York Knicks. With his ability to aggressively drive to the lane, draw fouls, and dish to open shooters like Trevor Ariza, K.J. McDaniels, and a resurgence in Eric Gordon, there will be continued success on stat sheet of Harden. Harden currently leads the league in turnovers with his antagonist and former teammate Russell Westbrook not too far behind. The major difference setting these two gladiators apart is their standings in the conference is Harden, with the better roster and higher seeding.