The Rockets finally managed to put the entire band back together on Monday night and the results were similar to what they managed in the previous two games, a 99-90 win over a banged up Miami Heat team. The win gave the three straight wins in all three games on the recent home stand and brought their record to an impressive 33-12.
Before getting too deep into the game with the Heat, a quick look back at a weekend that saw them beat a very talented Minnesota team and clinch the tie breaker against Golden State. James Harden made his return from a hamstring injury that sidelined him for over two weeks, playing limited minutes in the win over the Timberwolves. And on Sunday, he waved off his minutes restriction, hitting huge shots (along with Chris Paul) down the stretch and even playing some fantastic defense to hold off the Warriors in what were arguably the two most impressive wins of the season.
It returns them to the second best record in the NBA after a 4-3 record while Harden was out. Truth be told, this hasn't been the Rockets we saw early in the season since mid December when forward Luc Mbah a Moute went down with a shoulder injury. Between then and now, Paul, Harden, Clint Capela, Nene and Eric Gordon have missed games due to injury or illness. Trevor Ariza and Gerald Greene missed the last two games before Monday night to a suspension for shenanigans pulled after the loss to the Clippers last week.
But, for the first time in a long time Monday, they were at full strength. Of the primary rotation players, only Green didn't see action, but Coach Mike D'Antoni has said he plans to expand his bench to 10 guys and figure out how to give everyone some time. With a complete lineup, the Rockets are formidable. With Paul in the lineup, the Rockets are 23-5 and with Paul, Harden and Capela playing together, they are 18-0.
Four of the next six games are on the road including a pair at San Antonio and on the road against a struggling but still dangerous Cleveland. But, ultimately, their schedule is favorable with games against the Nets, Suns, Magic Pelicans, Kings, Nuggets, Mavs and Heat in nine of their final 12 games before the All-Star break. If they can keep everyone healthy, they have a chance to rack up some wins before the stretch run.
When healthy, the Rockets rival even the Warriors as a legitimate championship contender, but they have to maintain that health into and through the playoffs. For now, the key will be to build chemistry and keep the wins rolling like on Monday night where, even a relatively lackluster effort over the first three quarters wasn't enough to keep them from locking down in the final frame and getting the win over the Heat.
The adversity they faced over the past month could be character building and it certainly gave some critical on-the-floor experience to guys like Green and Tarik Black, who could play important minutes down the stretch. For now, it's off to Dallas with three straight wins under their belts and, for once, a completely healthy roster.