Winning two games in early March against a pair of teams hovering just over the .500 mark wouldn't normally seem like that big of a deal. But when they represent wins 16 and 17 of a season-long winning streak and they happen to come against two fairly dangerous teams on consecutive nights with travel in between, they should be considered impressive to say the least.
The Rockets haven't lost a game since January 26, rolling through the entire month of January without losing on a streak that now spans three months (their last loss was the only loss they have had in 22 games since James Harden returned from injury). It is now their second longest winning streak in franchise history behind only the 2007-08 team, which had 22 straight wins. It also gives them two streaks of 14 or more games in the same season, which is, by itself remarkable.
And if you want any more numbers to blow your mind when it comes to this team, they are 34-1 when Harden, Chris Paul and Clint Capela all play together.
With wins over the Thunder and the Bucks, two teams better than their records might indicate and capable of besting anyone on any given night, the Rockets have clearly demonstrated they are a formidable opponent for anyone, including the Warriors who, despite the Rockets streak, remain only one game back for the best record in the NBA.
Harden and co. were not exactly at their best in either of the first two road games in this four-game trip. But, their defense has been consistent and they have enough gas to throttle most teams in a few minutes of play. They were without Nene, who sits on the second half of back-to-back games, and still without Ryan Anderson, Joe Johnson and Brandan Wright. Nene and Johnson should return Friday in Toronto and Anderson may test his sore hip as well.
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They will need the help as they face the Raptors who posses the best record in the Eastern Conference, the third best record in the NBA. The showdown of East vs. West is made even more compelling after a dramatic win by Toronto on a last second dunk by DeMar DeRozan to beat the Pistons.
DeRozan, one of Harden's buddies from Los Angeles, is making some noise for MVP this season, an award that is clearly Harden's to lose. While this single matchup won't decide anything, it would go a long way to further solidify the Rockets place as perhaps the best team in the NBA. And, of course, it will stretch the win streak to 18 games, putting the 22-game franchise record streak in their crosshairs.
Most importantly, these first couple wins of what is the toughest ten-game stretch of the season, keeps them on pace for the best record in franchise history and ahead of the Warriors for home court advantage in the playoffs. With Toronto looming Friday and games against the Spurs, Pelicans, Timberwolves, Trailblazers and Pistons on the horizon, they will take every W they can get.