With a new coaching staff, a bunch of new players, a difficult early season schedule, and the loss of Dwight Howard, the 2016-17 season could’ve been a rough one for the Rockets, but it turned to be anything but.
“It’s a heck of a good job that they’ve done, and they should be proud of it,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said following a 123-118 win over Minnesota Wednesday at Toyota Center. “They should be proud of the season they had, how they hung in there, and how they played together.”
Wednesday’s win was the team’s 55th of the season. They finished the regular season with the third best record in the NBA, following a 41-41 campaign a season ago.
“55 wins in the West, third best team in the NBA, it wasn’t great, but for our first year as a unit being together under a new coach, new offense, new defensive scheme, new players, new players off trade deadline, to get 55 wins in this league or 55 wins in any league is tough and we were fortunate to play so well,” Rockets guard Patrick Beverley said.
The Rockets started the season 13-7 despite playing 14 of those 20 games away from Toyota Center. They didn’t lose back-to-back games until the second week of January and lost three in a row just once.
“We had a really, really good season,” Rockets guard James Harden said. “Especially being our first year basically together with the coaching staff and what not, but I think we’re all excited, in a good place, and we’re ready for the postseason.”
The Rockets postseason run will start Sunday night at Toyota Center against Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder, a team the Rockets won 3-of-4 from during the regular season. If the Rockets get past the Thunder a matchup with the Spurs looms in the Western Conference semifinals, and a trip to the NBA Finals would likely go through Golden State, the team that has ended the Rockets’ last two seasons.
“No one in this locker room fears anyone,” Beverley said. “We understand that we are one of the top teams in the NBA and the bullseye on our back. We understand what comes with that, but at the same time, we’re going to continue what we do- trying to defend, rebound, shoot threes, and get in transition. That’s our best weapon, and in order to do that we gotta defend and get stops.”
“I’m excited,” Harden said. “This is the first time since I’ve been here where guys are on the same page. We have a coaching staff that has a system and everybody knows that system offensively and defensively.”
This is the second time in three years the Rockets have hit the 55-win mark, and the sixth time in franchise history, but come Sunday, D’Antoni knows that means nothing.
“(55-wins) is one thing, and that’s the little thing that we did, but now it starts for real,” he said. “It’s time to strap it on and get it going.”