Houston Rockets: Fully healthy Chris Paul the key to playoff run

Chris Paul of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)
Chris Paul of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Houston Rockets star guard, Chris Paul has been slowly integrated back into the lineup. Now, he’s fully back and will be the key to the team’s playoff run.

Chris Paul struggled mightily to start the season for the Houston Rockets. It was even starting to look like the beginning of the end. He looked slow and his shot was not falling consistently like it had the year before and the rest of his career.

But, as he shook off some of that offseason rust, his play began to improve and he was looking worthy of that max extension the Rockets had to give over the offseason. He strung together five out of six games with 20+ points and 5+ assists before had missed his first couple of games because of injury.

He only missed three games before he returned to action on November 30th. However, it was easy to tell that he was no longer 100%. He was playing a little hobbled but he was out there grinding for his team, which is one of the best things about CP3. Over the next ten games, CP3 probably only had three or four games that were up to par with what we’ve come to expect from him.

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Unfortunately, in that eleventh game his hamstring gave up on him and he pulled it pretty badly, which has become a nagging, consistent injury for him. This latest hamstring injury forced CP3 out of the lineup for over a month and seventeen games.

During that time that CP3 was out, the Houston Rockets also lost Clint Capela to a thumb injury. So, this forced the Rockets other star guard, James Harden, to go on a historic tear that only recently came to end even though he followed it up with a stacked night of 58 points and 10 assists amongst other things.

But, the Houston Rockets now have all three guys back in the lineup as well as an almost entirely new supporting cast around them from when the season began. The team is looking better and better every game as they begin to build chemistry with this entire roster, really for the first time.

But, some of the biggest news to come out of the past week or so is that CP3 was able to play in back-to-back games for the first time since his injury and the first time since mid-December. He has been able to perform at a high level getting rest in between games but going back-to-back was going to be a huge test for him and his hammy.

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In the first game of this back-to-back, the Houston Rockets took on the Charlotte Hornets in Charlotte. CP3 had a very good, relatively efficient game against the Hornets. He had 17 points and 10 assists to go with 2 steals and 4 rebounds. He looked 100% healthy making Kemba Walker look very silly at times.

In the second game, the Houston Rockets traveled home to take on the Miami Heat in Houston in Dwayne Wade’s farewell tour. This was likely part of the reason CP3 wanted to play because he and Wade are good friends. CP3 struggled in the majority of the game, which could have been expected, but, he was able to turn it on at the end of the game hitting clutch free throws and a game-winning jumper.

That last part is what’s key here. He struggled throughout the game, sure, but when it mattered most he was able to come through in a big moment for his teammates after playing over 60 minutes in two days. This shows that, in spite of the struggles, he wasn’t too fatigued or banged up to not be able to come through when his team needed him to.

This will be of the utmost importance for the Houston Rockets down the stretch as they look to really hit their stride over the final twenty games of the season heading into the playoffs. They’re currently just a game behind the Trailblazers for fourth place and a game and a half behind the Thunder for third place in the Western Conference.

Having a fully healthy Paul alongside an MVP-level Harden and a sturdy Capela with the supporting cast the Houston Rockets put together, this team could be extremely dangerous. They could easily make a run deep into the playoffs to challenge the best of the best in the Western Conference for a chance at a shot in the NBA Finals.

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Another cool tidbit about the Houston Rockets guard is that CP3 recently became just the fourth person to be in the top 10 all-time in both assists and steals after he passed Karl Malone for 10th all-time in steals.