When you're hot, you're hot. And from the outside, the Houston Rockets are a blast furnace.
In a nutshell, that's why no one wants to face the Houston Rockets in the playoffs.
I'm not even talking about James Harden, who's hotter than August in Austin. But I'll talk about him just long enough to brag that in his last four games, Harden's netted 36, 35, 30 and 27 points. Harden's shot was off in the Feb. 10 victory over the Golden State Warriors, but in the three games prior to that contest, Harden shot 63.5 percent from the field, including 52.6 percent from three-point range.
Harden may be pacing the Rockets, but with their scorching team shooting, the Rockets are pacing the league.
Over the 10 games prior to the Feb. 10 Warriors victory, the Rockets shot 50.2 percent overall, including a stunning 41.3 percent from long-range. That's the league's third-best long-distance percentage, and a primary reason why the Rockets went 7-3 in those contests, outscoring opponents by an average of 10.6 points per game.
Yes, the blowout of the Warriors on Feb. 5 skewed things a bit, but the game still counts, so my point still holds.
One of those three losses was against the defending NBA champion Miami Heat—and it took a Dwyane Wade block on James Harden for the Heat to escape with the win. Miami was without Chris Bosh, but it was still an impressive effort, evidenced by what their coach had to say after watching the Rockets' high-flying offense.
"We held them to 108," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said (via Zachary Paul of NBA.com). "That team can score."
Coach, that's an understatement. In the five games prior to the latest Warriors win, the Rockets netted an incredible 51.8 percent of their shots—good for second in the league—as well as 42.4 percent of their three-point attempts.
This is a team that lives and dies by the parking-lot shot. Yes, Harden and Co. provide some nice presence at the rim on generally high-percentage attempts, but they shoot from beyond the arc with stunning frequency. At 29.1 attempts per game, only the New York Knicks hoist up more long-range tries than the Rockets.
The moral of the story is, when those treys fall, so could a No. 1 or No. 2 seed.
It happened to the mighty Dallas Mavericks in 2007. Dallas, the presumptive favorite to win it all that year, was no slouch from long range, taking 22 three-pointers per game in the playoffs. The Warriors took 31—and sunk theirs with a frequency over 40 percentage points higher than the Mavericks.
In the deciding sixth game, Dallas even tried to outduel the Warriors from three-point land. They hoisted up 37 long-range attempts to Golden State's 30. The difference? Golden State hit 46 percent of their attempts; Dallas sank 32 percent of theirs.
The rest is legend: it was the third time in NBA history a No. 8 seed defeated a No. 1 seed.
Those Warriors shot the three with reckless abandon and ran the court with afterburner speed, running and gunning their way to the league's second-most-potent offense.
Sound familiar, Houston fans?
Granted, the Warriors that year had a roster stocked with veterans, whereas some of these Rockets haven't even sprouted stubble yet. Yet this Houston team's style hearkens back to that dynamic Warriors squad nonetheless.
I'm a purist when it comes to offense in sports. If my football team needs a yard, I believe in running it up the middle. As the great Georgia Tech coach Bobby Ross used to say, if you can't get a yard when you need to, you don't deserve to win the football game.
The same applies for me when it comes to basketball. I'll take a sure two over a lower-percentage three any day of the week. But I cannot deny the emotional lift that comes with a fillings-rattling jam, even though there is more chance for something to go wrong.
In the same way, I find it thrilling to watch a team for whom the three ball is so essential. When it goes down with regularity, it's every bit as magical as watching a great David Blaine special.
These Rockets combine the best of both worlds. Harden, Jeremy Lin and Chandler Parsons can all hit the high-percentage deuce by the rim. Since Lin's three ball has come on the last five games, all three players are now threats to score from a distance.
Sure, another player down low to snare rebounds with Asik, help Harden when defenses trap him, and be an assist target for Lin and Co. would add a scary scoring dimension to this roster.
But come playoff time, if these guys start netting their long-range missiles like they're doing now, look out. The Western Conference high seeds will want no part of H-Town's deadeye collective.
Simply put, these Houston Rockets present the combustible recipe for a classic upset.