James Harden and Chris Paul Are Putting Their Reputation On The Line
Since I wrote the entry, the Houston Rockets have not only clinched the number one seed in the Western Conference for the first time ever. But they have also clinched the best record in the NBA. Talk about our franchise years ago when we won our titles. This team is possibly the best Rockets team ever talent-wise.
But even with the success of being number one in the regular season comes a great deal of pressure. When you’re the number one seed, you should remind the seven teams below you in the conference why you’re the top dog. There’s a big bullseye on your backs and every team is going to give you a shot. We never dealt with serious pressure before. But when we did, we succeeded.
The ultimate test comes from the Houston Rockets and how they handle being the number one seed. It starts with the two leaders in James Harden and Chris Paul.
Harden & Paul
If there are two superstars that need to answer to the questions about can they thrive in the playoffs, it’s Harden and Paul. We basically know the story with these two.
Harden is a former sixth-man with the Oklahoma City Thunder had a team that could’ve won an NBA title. But after losing the Finals to the Miami Heat in 2012, the Thunder made a terrible mistake. They let James Harden go. Since then, Harden has developed into a legitimate superstar. He’s an all-star, a top scorer, and somebody who should’ve and eventually will win an MVP we feel.
But even so, Harden in the playoffs is somewhat lesser-felt than the regular season. There have been moments in the playoffs when Harden hadn’t lived up to expectations. We can remember game six of last year’s postseason when Harden played like someone who wasn’t there. Then there was the great comeback against the Clippers in 2015. Game six, was Harden on the floor in the fourth quarter? No! That was a comeback led by two guys who are not even part of the team anymore.
Mind you, Harden has had some great games. But the public perception is that Harden can’t play defense and Harden struggles in the big games. This season, he has proven to be the rightful MVP. He should be the MVP. I once said on here he wasn’t a lock because at the time, there was still a season to be played and others could step up. Now I know for sure he is the MVP. If I’m wrong with that statement from those that don’t give him the MVP, then I might as well go berserk.
Then there is Chris Paul. He’s spent time on a Clippers team that will go down as one of the biggest disappointments ever in all of sports. This Clippers team had what it took to win a title from the public eye. The Lakers were no longer the Lake Show and Lob City had a takeover in sight. But yet, they couldn’t get out of the second round.
We can still remember Chris Paul hitting the clutch game-winning shot against the Spurs in the first round of the playoffs. There’s the mindset of Chris Paul leading the Clippers to an incredible comeback over the Grizzlies. Then again, there’s Chris Paul watching as the Rockets comeback from 3-1 down to win the series.
When Paul decided to join the Houston Rockets, it was a feeling of mainly a bolt of energy. Sure, there were those that questioned whether Paul still had it in him now that he’s in his 30s. But Paul would help Houston get to where they’re at. Without him and Harden, the Rockets are nowhere close to a top-five team.
Why Are the Reputations At Stake?
In today’s game, we got superstars forming super teams. So far, it’s worked for LeBron and the Miami Heat when they won two titles. It’s worked for the Boston Celtics with Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen and they won in 2008. With Kevin Durant and the Warriors, there is no question it’s worked for them. But now, you have other teams in the same boat. Will the Rockets follow the same path or will they fail?
The moment Harden and Paul joined together to form a super team, this was a chance for the Rockets to redeem themselves after the experiment with Dwight Howard didn’t go according to script. So yes, there were going to be skeptics and yes, there’s going to be people wanting us to fail. But with the way the Rockets are going, they should accept the challenge of winning even if all else fails.
For Harden and Paul, winning a title this year will put an end to all the doubters who believe that Harden won’t win because he can’t play defense or that Paul can’t get past the second round. This was not a shortcut that Paul took when he signed with Houston like Durant to Golden State. This was a challenge of competing against the Warriors. So far, the Rockets have not only caught up to the Warriors. They’ve passed them. But now, it comes down to the postseason and the ultimate question remains.