Chris Paul

Red-hot Rockets at full strength for Celtics rematch

Red-hot Rockets at full strength for Celtics rematch

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.”

30 teams in 30 days: Rockets get James Harden another star


30 teams in 30 days: Rockets get James Harden another star

James Harden’s status as a star in the NBA took yet another leap forward last season with the 28-year-old finishing second to Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook for the league’s MVP award.
Despite finishing with the third-best record in the NBA last season, the Rockets were bounced in the second round by San Antonio which was a clear signal that as good as Harden was, he would need help in the form of another superstar to truly establish a perch among the game’s elite.
In comes future Hall of Famer Chris Paul, who needs a team like the Rockets as badly as they need him.
Despite a war chest full of individual accolades as well as being a well-respected leader, the 32-year-old Paul has never led a team past the second round of the playoffs.
There’s no questioning the talent assembled in the Houston backcourt with Harden and Paul, but there are legitimate concerns as to how they will mesh together, especially with both being ball-dominant playmakers who have thrived in those roles.
You have to believe at some point head coach Mike D’Antoni will figure out how to mesh their games, and from there things could get real scary for opponents.
Because in addition to having what looks to be one of the most dynamic backcourts in the NBA, the Rockets also added some legit toughness and versatility with P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute. Both players provide some much-needed toughness for a Houston team that shot the hell out of the ball last season in setting an NBA record in made 3-pointers with 1,181.
Scoring is not an issue for the Rockets. Houston averaged 115.3 points per game which was second only to Golden State (115.9) in the NBA last season.
Now defense? That’s another story.
The Rockets defensive rating (106.4) ranked 18th in the NBA and allowed 109.6 points per game, which ranked 26th in the league.
In addition to Tucker and Mbah a Moute, the Rockets also have Trevor Ariza to help form a strong 1-2-3 defensive punch on the wing.
Houston’s interior defense is an area of concern, but if they hold their own defensively while still creating problems for opposing defenses because of the Paul-Harden backcourt as well as Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon who can both shoot the ball well, the Rockets have a legit shot at doing what no Paul-led team has done which is get to the Conference finals.
Key free agent/draft/trade additions: Chris Paul (Los Angeles Clippers); P.J. Tucker (Toronto); Luc Mbah a Moute (Los Angeles Clippers).
Key losses: Patrick Beverley (Los Angeles Clippers); Lou Williams (Los Angeles Clippers); Sam Dekker (Los Angeles Clippers); Montrezl Harrell (Los Angeles Clippers);
Rookies of note: Zhou Qi.
Expectations: 57-35 (1st in the Southwest Division, 2nd in the West).

PODCAST: Doc Rivers with high praise for Celtics offseason, rebuild; Interviews with Isaiah Thomas and Brad Stevens


PODCAST: Doc Rivers with high praise for Celtics offseason, rebuild; Interviews with Isaiah Thomas and Brad Stevens

In this week's episode of the "Celtics Talk" podcast, A. Sherrod Blakely and Kyle Draper discuss the Cavs introduction of Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder, plus bring you some of the exclusive interviews we have had over the past few days - Isaiah Thomas in Cleveland, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens, former Celtics head coach Doc Rivers.

Here's a rundown of this episode:

Kyle and Sherrod

  • 1:10: Reaction to Isaiah Thomas/Jae Crowder press conference
  • 4:30: Are people underestimating the Cavs with Derrick Rose and Jose Calderon to fill in for Isaiah?
  • 8:03: Isaiah Thomas Player’s Tribune letter

A. Sherrod Blakely interview with Isaiah Thomas

  • 11:37: Isaiah on dealing with the trade 
  • 12:34: IT on playing with LeBron
  • 13:04: Questions with hip injury effecting 'backing up the Brinks truck' next summer
  • 14:04: What it would be like to play the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals
  • 15:48: How does IT not take it personally getting traded?
  • 16:27: Isaiah's conversation with Brad Stevens
  • 17:22: Does the relationship change with young players on C’s?

Kyle with Brad Stevens

  • 18:35: On entering his 5th season with Celtics
  • 19:22: Thoughts on the overhauled roster
  • 20:03: Stevens thought on Isaiah’s letter
  • 22:47: Stevens on theory that Kyrie Irving is a ‘ball dominant guard’

Kyle with Doc Rivers

  • 25:17: Doc talks about Celtics big changes
  • 26:12: Kyrie Irving is a closer…you need closers
  • 27:12: Danny Ainge rebuild - “As good a rebuild as you’ve ever seen”
  • 28:05: Adjustment for Clippers from losing Chris Paul
  • 28:52: Loss of Jamal Crawford
  • 29:30: His role change within the organization
  • 30:20: The stacked West, and how everyone is still chasing the Warriors

Kyle and Sherrod

  • 31:50 Marcus Smart - Losing weight; importance of his role on defense with loss of Bradley and Crowder
  • 33:41 Expecting Tatum/Brown to play big roles