HOUSTON – There is no hotter team in the NBA right now than the Houston Rockets, who are currently riding a league-best winning streak of 14.
Indeed, they are a different-looking team since Boston’s epic 99-98 comeback win on Dec. 28.
And that change can be summed up in two words: Chris Paul.
While James Harden is once again a popular talking point in MVP conversations, it is Paul’s presence that has elevated Houston from being one of the top teams that falls short of contending with Golden State to a club that’s looking the Warriors in the eye for Western Conference supremacy and isn’t blinking one bit.
“They're a special team,” Brad Stevens said.
And now they’re a special team at full strength as the Rockets look to keep on their winning ways while exacting a bit of revenge in the process when they face the Celtics on Saturday.
When Boston rallied from a 26-point deficit in the third quarter to win 99-98 over the Rockets in December, Houston played that game minus two key players – Paul and Clint Capela.
Paul, who was out with a left adductor strain injury, is a nine-time All-Star, two-time Olympic gold medal winner and statistically speaking, one of the most decorated active players.
So, for the 32-year-old Paul to not play? Yeah, you’re gonna notice his absence for sure.
But the 23-year-old Capela has emerged as a vital cog in Houston’s strong season, which had them atop the Western Conference standings at the All-Star break.
The 6-foot-10 center, who missed the Dec. 28 game against Boston with a right orbital fracture, is averaging a double-double this season of 14.6 points and 11.1 rebounds while shooting 5.7 percent from the field.
“They're really good and the way that they play offense is obviously really tough to stop,” Stevens said. “And then defensively, I think they've really improved. Very versatile, very long, play with multiple efforts, very good.”
Aron Baynes echoed similar sentiments about the Rockets (48-13), who despite a strong run of success lately, remain just a half-game ahead of Golden State (48-14) for the best record in the West but can take solace in the fact that they have already won the head-to-head season series.
“They're very talented,” Baynes said, adding, “of course their back court is super talented, but you know they have great guys down the bench, one through 12. It's everyone, it's just a matter of we have to go out there and play our team ball and our team defense and then we should be all right.”