Rockets 117, Nets 103 - The New Normal

The Houston Rockets played a mediocre game and let off the gas for long stretches tonight. They were sloppy with the ball and had trouble shooting. Their defensive effort flagged and overall they looked like they were giving about eighty percent. It was also, by the way, another double-digit win and overall an easy cruise to victory over a very short-handed Brooklyn Nets team. This is the new normal; the Rockets can blow lesser teams out while not even trying. It might be time to start getting used to it.

James Harden, of course, was the star of the show. The Rockets got out to an early 20-point lead in the first quarter on the back of his 7 of 7 shooting including 5 makes from behind the arc. After that, he focused more on racking up the assists, but came two shy of another triple double. He ended the night with 37 points on 20 shots, accompanied by 10 rebounds and the aforementioned 8 assists. Harden was, as ever, a machine. He even managed to play just under 36 minutes, which is something he will need to keep doing or even play less if the Rockets plan to keep him truly fresh for the playoffs.

Helping in that plight was Chris Paul, who can't seem to shoot lately but is an absolute master of the assist. He only made 1 of 7 field goal attempts for a paltry 4 points, but his 6 rebounds, 14 assists and zero turnovers were another story entirely. He takes care of the ball at a level the Rockets are not used to, and it's amazing to watch. He's a shockingly good foil to Harden, a contrast between Paul's methodical, intricate play and Harden's free-flowing torrent of offense. It's no coincidence that the Rockets have won every singe game Chris Paul has played in. He gives them layers upon layers.

This is the way it's going to be, as long as both Chris Paul and James Harden are healthy. The Rockets continue to railroad teams with their continuous barrage of threes, and even on a pair of off nights, they still won the last two games by a total of 29 points. This is new territory for the Rockets, and it's new territory for their fans as well. Their new normal is well above any reasonable expectations, and now we all have to adjust.

The Rockets have long tried to emulate the San Antonio Spurs, and now it seems like in some ways they have. In this case, they seem to have become, like the Spurs, a team that can just cruise through the regular season. The moment that the lead passed 20 points was the moment the Rockets had secured their victory, as early as the first quarter. They took it easy and still took the Nets out. This is what it means to be truly elite. And this is the first time the Rockets have been truly elite in a very, very long time.

On one hand, it's cause for concern that the Rockets are willing, at times, to play down to their opposition. That's a bad habit and will get them in trouble sooner or later. A particularly feisty bottom feeding team will at some point sock them in the mouth and win a game that the Rockets foolishly ceded to them. But unlike other seasons, it also won't happen very often. The Rockets might not always use it, but they've proven that they have a higher gear, that they can, if they care to, bash through lesser opposition. The really good news for Houston is that almost all of the opposition is lesser. There is no question of whether or not they make the playoffs, if they rack up 50 wins, if they have home court in the first round. They survived a month without a player of Chris Paul's caliber.

This is a new team. This is a new era. This is a new normal. Get used to double digit wins, even when they get a bit lazy. Get used to seeing them win a lot, and also feeling cheated when they don't. Get used to being hated for how much you take success for granted. If you root for the Rockets, look to Spurs fans to see a shadow of your future self, whether you like it or now. The Rockets have changed, and now the rest of the world has to catch up.

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