The Houston Rockets are having a very rocky go of it. They are currently 33-24 and sit in the fifth seed of the NBA's Western Conference. The season started out very slowly for the Rockets. Chris Paul had been on and off injured, and when he was on the floor, wasn't very effective. Their lack of depth on the perimeter and secondary ball-handlers hit the team hard.
However, as time went on, James Harden began to play like he did the season prior. He's been putting up MVP-like stats and has put himself in the race once again. This season he's averaged 36.6 points, 6.7 rebounds and 7.7 assists per game while shooting 44.1 percent from the field and 37.4 percent from beyond the arc.
Only Giannis Antetekounmpo and perhaps Paul George have MVP cases over Harden. He's carried the team to where it is now. Now, with the additions of some waiver wire pickups and Chris Paul coming into his own, they have a promising rest of the season.
Here are three important questions that they need to answer coming into the long stretch.
1.) Can Harden and Paul remain healthy?
Harden has had an insane usage percentage this season. Per Cleaning the Glass, his 43.6 percent usage ranks in the 100th percentile among all other guards. He's so important to the team's success, and if he works himself to hard in the regular season, he could be burnt out by the time April comes around.
This is what happened last season. The Rockets could've easily beaten the Golden State Warriors in six games. The Western Conference Finals were instead plagued with injury from Paul and Luc Mbah a Moute. Without the defensive depth, the team suffered.
If Paul and Harden aren't able to stay healthy, the team will have no chance of getting anywhere in the playoffs. Harden needs to continue to defer to Paul. In the same sentiment, Paul needs to make sure he doesn't push himself past his limit.
2.) Do they have enough depth?
One problem with the team last season is that they didn't have enough depth. This campaign, it's even worse. Without Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute, the team has hardly any depth on the wing. They had to pick up Austin Rivers and Gary Clark off of waivers and traded for Iman Shumpert.
However, Shumpert's addition to the team is huge. He's a rangy defender that uses his size and speed to guard players. And, with passes coming from Paul and Harden, his three-point percentage will only continue to rise.
3.) Can Harden win the MVP?
Harden has been on an unprecedented run. All of his buckets that have been coming off of isolation is just ridiculous. His stepback is unguardable. The only thing stopping Harden from winning MVP is which seed he makes it in. The fourth seed he would need to seal the position in the race.