The sample size is small, but in their first two games since the All-Star break, the Houston Rockets appear to be clicking at full force.
While posting double-digit wins over the Golden State Warriors and Utah Jazz, both on the road, the Rockets converted 45 of 97 3-pointers for a robust 46.4 percent from behind the arc.
Their floor spacing has been tremendous and their depth -- bolstered by the recent additions of Jeff Green and DeMarre Carroll plus the return from injury of Eric Gordon -- has overwhelmed opponents.
Houston has won seven of nine games and will seek to continue building upon that momentum Monday when it hosts the New York Knicks.
The Rockets climbed to fourth in the Western Conference with their 120-110 win over the Jazz, one game behind the third-place LA Clippers. Having pursued viability as a contender all season, Houston appears to have found it.
"If we guard at a high level like we've been doing, the sky's the limit for us," Rockets guard James Harden told reporters. "We've got to continue to get better possession by possession.
"We've got to try to put (together) a four-quarter game like that. And we're working on it."
Defensive vigor remains a sporadic attribute for the Rockets, but with the offense clicking, Houston needs only to be solid on that end of the court. The byproduct of the floor spacing resulting from playing small has fully unlocked guard Russell Westbrook for rim attacks.
Westbrook is averaging 34.2 points (on 55.8 percent shooting), 7.0 rebounds and 5.6 assists since the Rockets jettisoned center Clint Capela at the trade deadline. Harden is averaging 30.5 points, 5.8 rebounds and 7.7 assists during that same span, and Houston has put opponents in compromising positions regarding how they aim to guard the Rockets' bevy of shooters.
Utah attempted to utilize center Rudy Gobert against Westbrook. The results were unfavorable.
"Everybody's been doing it," Westbrook said of being defended by a big. "I don't know if it's working."
For the Knicks, the game against Houston will mark just their second since the return from the All-Star break. The Knicks had two practices prior to their 106-98 loss to the Indiana Pacers on Friday and had two more scheduled in advance of their meeting with the Rockets.
It is rare for teams to encounter such open expanses on the calendar, and the youthful Knicks made it an emphasis to take advantage of the opportunity to continue the process of growth and development.
The Knicks have dropped three consecutive games following a season-best four-game winning streak, and having played just three games over the previous two weeks affords them the chance to solidify their foundation with attention focused squarely on the future.
"What we have talked about is ... what we control is today," Knicks coach Mike Miller said. "Let's take care of today. Let's get better today. Everybody in the building is working to try to get better. And if we can do that and keep our energy going in that direction, they have proven that when they do that they can have success and they can help themselves."
--Field Level Media