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Rocket climbers: Houston’s journey up the West standings

The Houston Rockets didn’t want to hear about the standings Tuesday night.

Sure, it was nice to get some help across the border as they pulled off another impressive win, fighting off a comeback bid and finishing strong in a 107-95 win over the Toronto Raptors. As the Rockets were running up a 38-point fourth quarter, the clock was ticking down on the two teams directly above them in the Western Conference standings, with the Oklahoma City Thunder and Portland Trail Blazers suffering losses to lottery-bound teams (adding to the theme of the night, the West-leading Golden State Warriors also fell).cheap nfl nike jerseys from china

Right now, the Rockets are playing as well as any team in the NBA. The roster has been shuffled since the start of the season — goodbye Carmelo Anthony, James Ennis, Michael Carter-Williams, etc., welcome Austin Rivers, Kenneth Faried, Iman Shumpert — but the Rockets are finally performing at the elite level that was expected all along for a franchise that roared through last regular season and was a hamstring away from a title, as they like to say in Houston.6

Since that 11-14 low point, when the dysfunctional Phoenix Suns were the lone team the Rockets looked down on in the West standings, Houston has the NBA’s second-best win percentage (28-11, .718). Only the NBA-best Milwaukee Bucks have been better.cheap nfl jerseys china nike

Houston’s success for much of that stretch can be explained simply: Reigning MVP James Harden went on a historic tear. But that sort of one-man show isn’t sustainable for a title contender, as noted by Kobe Bryant, who won five titles when he had All-Star teammates but failed to lift the Lakers to elite status as a lone star.

Harden continues to put up offensive numbers that stack up favorably with the best of all time, but he doesn’t have to carry as heavy of a burden with Paul and center Clint Capela healthy, and the Rockets’ supporting cast clicking, settling into a comfort zone and embracing their complementary roles.

The win over the Raptors was evidence of that. Harden was off for most of the night, but Houston’s second unit tore up Toronto with Paul orchestrating. That’s the group that built a big lead in the first half and re-established command in the fourth quarter after the Raptors rallied.