The Rockets matched the franchise record for wins through 50 games at 33 by beating the Phoenix Suns 122-108 at Toyota Center on Wednesday night. The win allows them to keep pace in the ridiculously competitive Western Conference where, despite their accomplishments, they still remain in fifth place. All five of the top teams in the West are on pace to win 50 games this season. By comparison, only two Eastern Conference teams -- the Miami Heat and the Indiana Pacers -- are on pace to hit the 50-win mark.
The Suns had already beaten the Rockets twice this year and had been on a roll of late until a loss at home Tuesday to the Chicago Bulls. The win gives the Rockets a four-game winning streak, their second of that length this year, as they head into a stretch of games against mediocre to below average opponents and the All-Star break.
Their next four games are against the Bucks (9-40), the Timberwolves (24-25), the Wizards (24-24) and the Lakers (17-32), teams that combine for a .379 winning percentage. Additionally, those games are spread out over 10 days. Once they get through All-Star weekend, however, they will launch into a four-game West Coast road trip that will include games against the Warriors, the Suns, the Kings and the Clippers. Phoenix, Sacramento and the Clippers have two wins each against the Rockets, so they will need to make hay while they have a favorable schedule.
Still, there is no question the Rockets are playing better, particularly on defense. They held Phoenix to 49 percent shooting and just 8-30 from behind the three-point line. After giving up 63 first half points, they only allowed 45 in the second half including just 18 in the fourth quarter.
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The Rockets starting five plus Jeremy Lin have been particularly good lately and that continued against the Suns. Dwight Howard had 34 points and 14 boards, James Harden had 23 and both Terrence Jones and Chandler Parsons had 19. Jones chipped in 9 points while Parsons added 7 boards and 6 assists. Coach Kevin McHale said today they expect Omer Asik to practice with the team tomorrow and he could be back on the floor as soon as Saturday when they travel to Milwaukee.
There is still a lot that needs to go right for the Rockets and plenty of tough match ups to come. The Clippers and Thunder continue to dominate despite the losses of both their All-Star point guards. San Antonio has been wracked with injuries but has the second best record in the conference. Then there is surprising Portland, who continues to roll, and teams like the Mavericks and Suns, who have been better than anticipated.
The West is quite simply loaded, but so are the Rockets. With the emergence of Jones and the chemistry developing with Lin and Patrick Beverly on the floor together, it appears some of the issues at the start of the season have begun to work themselves out. There is a long way to go and the Rockets still must drastically improve their defensive consistency, but getting healthy will go a long way towards doing just that and continuing to improve on the whole.
Maybe the record for most wins in the first 50 games of a season won't be the only one they tie...or break.