HOUSTON -- Take a look at the NBA standings and you’ll see that Boston and Houston have been at or near the top most of this season.
Based on their play, no one should be shocked if Saturday night’s game between the Celtics and Rockets serves as a prelude to a potential NBA Finals showdown.
The Celts have won with their defense, which, despite a string of sub-par performances, still ranks among the best in the NBA. Houston has been an offensive power all season with its use of the 3-point shot.
But what gives both teams hope that they can be one of the last two teams standing is how each has performed on the side of the floor where they have been less dominant.
Boston’s offense has stared to show signs that it can be really special. The Celtics come into Saturday’s game having scored a season-high 134 points in a 28-point win against Charlotte.
And the Rockets’ defense is just outside of being top-10 worthy, which, when combined with a lethal offense, shows why Houston's rise toward the top of the NBA standings record-wise, is not all that complicated.
And that’s just the beginning.
Here are five more reasons why Saturday’s game between Boston and Houston may be a prelude to the NBA Finals this year.
FAMILIAR FINALS FOES
When it comes to something like a new-look NBA Finals, you can rest assured if there’s any historical connection between the two teams we’ll hear about it . . . a lot. That holds true between Boston and Houston, two teams that aren’t necessarily bitter rivals but do have some history.
Boston met the Rockets in the 1986 Finals and finished them off in six games. The two met five years earlier in the Finals with an identical result: Boston wins in six.
MORE HARDEN-SMART, PLEASE
It really is a shame that we only get to see James Harden and Marcus Smart go at each other twice a year. To see them go at each other at least four times in the Finals . . . that alone makes this something we should all want to see.
Harden is having another MVP-like season statistically and his team is winning an incredible rate, which -- for a change -- makes him the odds-on leader to win it this season.
And Smart’s defense, always good, has been exceptional against the best and in the biggest of moments.
The two offensive foul calls Smart got against Harden when these two met Dec. 28, is the kind of stuff that a player like Harden won’t forget about anytime soon.
And Smart will be looking to do his part to show what he did just a few days after Christmas, was not a fluke.
HOUSTON BETTER THAN GOLDEN STATE?
While most of us -- media and fans alike -- have anointed Golden State as the team coming out of the West this season, the Rockets have done enough so far to be considered more than just the next-best thing to Golden State. Houston has reeled off 14 straight wins and currently has a slim, half-game lead over the Warriors for the best record in the West. More telling is how the Rockets have already won the head-to-head series 2-1, which means if they finish in a tie for the best record, Houston will be the top seed.
We have seen Stevens’ coaching acumen on display in the regular season and in the playoffs, and he has been good. So the next logical step in his growth as a leader is to see how he handles himself when the stakes are as high as they can possibly be. And they don’t get any higher than the NBA Finals. He’s regarded as one of the NBA’s best basketball minds, but until he wins an NBA title there’s going to be a little bit of doubt in the minds of some as to just how good he really is as a coach.
Question him for his flat-Earth comments, or any other head-scratching narrative Kyrie Irving has spoken about lately. But the man’s decision to get out of Cleveland when he did, is making him look like a freakin’ genius.
The Cavs weren't very good with the pieces they acquired as part of the trading away of Irving. And now, just weeks after hitting the reset button on their season by jettisoning out some players (Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder) who weren’t helping them win much, they’re back to where they were before making all the changes -- not winning much.
Meanwhile, Irving had another All-Star season and his new team has been among the best in the league all season. For Irving to go back to the Finals and Cleveland continue to falter . . . maybe the earth is flatter than you think?
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