Eric Gordon: Houston Rockets Ready for Golden State Warriors
The Houston Rockets appear to be a team on a mission, a mission they haven’t legitimately been on since Hakeem Olajuwon patrolled the paint and struck fear into any player daring to have aspirations of scoring in the paint. The “Dream Shake” has long since been replaced by “The Beard” and his Euro-step, but no one expected the latter to hang a banner in the rafter of the Toyota Center . . .until now.
“No question, we have that chance,” Rockets guard Eric Gordon told NBARadioShow.com of his team beating the defending champion Golden State Warriors. “We’ve beaten them twice this year and we should have beaten them three times. We know that they’re a good team and they’ve been to the Finals three or four years in a row. We know what’s in front of us, but we’ve just got to stay healthy and take care of now and see what happens.”
A big part of the reason for the Rockets’ success is having the reigning sixth-man of the year coming off the bench as both a scoring and defensive juggernaut.
“You don’t win in this league without your bench being strong, and he’s really strong,” Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni told NBARadioShow.com. “He could start for any other team. He’s played at a really high level, and you know, what goes overlooked because you get into the sixth-man race and you talk about stats, he’s one of the better defensive players in the league. That’s half the game, so half the game he’s better than anybody. Then, what he gives us offensively, defensively, he can be the backup point guard; he’s very versatile and very valuable for us.”
Together with Chris Paul, Gordon has helped establish a culture of defense that hasn’t existed in Houston since the league’s all-time blocked shot leader was doing his deadly dance around the basket. Olajuwon brought two championships the Houston with his defensive mindset, and the Rockets have once again built a strong defensive team around a premier offensive player.
“We have a better crew defensively, we have guys who are two-way players and I think that’s why we play with a little more edge and we’re a better team this year,” said Gordon. “It’s to the point where we all have to play defense to win a championship. That’s why we’re all here. We’re going to have to play defense. We know James is the best offensively, but at the end of the day, if we want to win, we all have to play good defense.”
D’Antoni credits Gordon with being a primary instigator of the Rockets’ vastly improved defense.
“He takes the hard guy. He saves Chris a little bit, saves James, and he takes all the work on. It just amazes me how we evaluate things in the league. We’ve got one of the best players in the league, being sixth [man], one, two or three, whatever you want to say, and people say he doesn’t have quite some number . . .give me a break.”
For Gordon, who is having the greatest success of his NBA career, it has been all about finding the right fit. He started his career with a struggling Los Angeles Clippers team, then landed in the middle of a rebuild as part of the trade that sent Chris Paul to LA and Gordon to the New Orleans Hornets. He struggled with a knee injury for much of his first two seasons in New Orleans when expectations for him were at an all-time high.
“I knew I would get to 100% again, it was just a matter of time and being in a better situation,” said Gordon. “I was in New Orleans, when I first got there I was ‘the guy,’ then all these injuries and we had all these young guys, a young team trying to figure it out along the way. We actually got better during the end of my time there, the last two years, but now I’m on a better team that wants me to be the best that I can be and they really use me as one of their key guys. That’s been the biggest difference is the mentality here with the Rockets and they just want what’s best for me.”
Putting Gordon in the situation that’s best for him has also meant putting the Rockets in the best position to win. He’s the clear frontrunner for Sixth-Man of the Year again this season, is among the league’s best three-point threats and has proven to be part of as deadly a “big three” as any in the league.
“That’s why I chose to come off the bench, to make us a better and deeper team,” said Gordon. “I know if I went somewhere else I would definitely start, but for us to have a chance to be a championship caliber team [this is better]. I’m going to score whether I start of come off the bench, it doesn’t really matter to me, it’s just all about being in a really good situation.”
The Rockets currently have the best record in the NBA, they’ve clinched a playoff berth and they have taken out the defending champion Golden State Warriors in two of their three matchups. It’s a far cry from winning a title, but it certainly bodes well for the Rockets as the playoffs approach.
A really good situation, indeed.
Bill Ingram has 17 years of experience covering the NBA and is now a contributing writer for nbAradioshow.com. You can find him on Twitter: @TheRocketGuy
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