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James Harden.

What's changed for the Houston Rockets since last season?

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Last season, the Houston Rockets did not perform anywhere near what they are capable of.

They eventually sneaked into the playoffs on the final day of the regular season and they were duly dispatched by the Golden State Warriors in the first round of the playoffs 4-1.

It was believed the rumoured dissension between franchise superstar James Harden and leading center Dwight Howard - of which both men repeatedly denied - was the primary reason the Texas-based organisation could not fulfil its potential.

While on paper it should have worked beautifully, it just did not. Howard, although he averaged a double-double during all three of his seasons with the Rockets, appeared disinterested and unengaged on offence and the dreamy pick and roll scenarios many imagined were few and far between.

The former Orlando Magic phenomenon would go on to suggest that he was told to stay out of the offensive plays by general manager Daryl Morey.

All of the supposed dysfunction evaporated during the summer when Howard departed the franchise in free agency and headed back home to Atlanta. The 30-year-old is now enjoying something of a renaissance and is playing his best basketball in years as a Hawk.

Houston Rockets v Orlando Magic

But, the results have been even better for the Rockets. After recruiting Ty Lawson back in the summer of 2015, Houston thought they had a talented point guard to compliment Harden in the backcourt that would make them contenders once more.

Lawson, however, could not adapt to the ball-dominant style of Harden and would be waived before the season's end. Now, Harden has been switched to the one-spot and the results have been dazzling.

The 27-year-old is averaging above his career numbers in just about every category and is currently putting up an average of 28.7 points, 11.9 assists and 7.2 rebounds a night.

Houston Rockets v Dallas Mavericks

Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle recently explained how Harden's subtle change has made the Rockets that much tougher.

"He's a superstar, a great player, one of the most difficult matchups we've had in the league the last seven years," Carlisle said. "With him now handling the ball virtually all the time, it makes it even harder. It's a team responsibility. We're going to have to throw a lot of different guys at him, make it as hard as possible."

But, it is the supporting cast around Harden that has improved the Rockets to 11-7 this year thus far.

Houston Rockets v Detroit Pistons

Eric Gordon, despite having a long history with injuries, was an excellent grab this summer and he has slotted in alongside Harden in the backcourt seamlessly.

In three-pointers made this season, Stephen Curry leads the way with 75, 20 more than his next peer, Harden. And yet, the Rockets have three men - The Beard, Gordon and Trevor Ariza - inside the top five players for three-pointers made.

With Harden and Gordon responsible for 110 three-point bombs in just 18 games, it's no wonder their fortunes have changed. Much of the praise on that front should go to new head coach Mike D'Antoni; his ability to prize MVP-contending form out of Harden and his desire to effectively space the floor could see the Rockets surprise a lot of people this season.

Topics:
NBA
Houston Rockets
Southwest Division
Western Conference
Dwight Howard
Trevor Ariza
James Harden

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