James Harden.

Why the Houston Rockets have taken over as the NBA's best team

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At 18-4, the Houston Rockets don't have the best record in the NBA right now, but it's only because the Boston Celtics have played two more games and have a 20-4 record.

Therefore, it's fair to say the Rockets' record is just as good as their Eastern Conference rivals' record, and the way the team is playing right now, 20-4 is likely in the Rockets' near future.

It's been a great year in Houston, and the Rockets look like a team poised to make a legitimate run at an NBA title.

Even in a conference that features the Golden State Warriors, who have made it to the last three NBA Finals and have won two titles, this year feels different for the Rockets. They've already defeated the Warriors in an exciting opening-night showdown and haven't slowed down since.

They look like the best team in the NBA right now, and there are several factors that are helping coach Mike D'Antoni's team reach new heights.

Here are three of the biggest reasons why the Rockets have emerged as the team to beat in the NBA so far this season:

Houston Rockets v Phoenix Suns

James Harden is the MVP right now

Through 22 games, Harden is averaging an impressive 31.7 points, 9.7 assists and 5.1 rebounds per game as the unquestioned leader of the Rockets.

Harden leads the entire NBA in points per game and is tied with Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook for the most assists per game.

Many feel Harden should have been named the MVP of the league last year, even though Westbrook averaged a season-long triple-double. It's clear Harden feels that way too, so this year, he's leaving no doubt as to who the MVP really is.

If he can keep playing at this level (which there's no reason to think he can't), the Rockets will continue to pile up victories.

Houston Rockets v Charlotte Hornets

They're playing much better defense

When you score 114.1 points per game like the Rockets do (second only to the Warriors), you don't need to play very good defense to win games.

However, the Rockets have certainly stepped up their game on that end of the floor, and it has helped them tremendously. In fact, the Rockets currently have the No. 7 scoring defense in the NBA, allowing only 102.7 points per night.

While Harden won't be mistaken for an elite defender anytime soon, the rest of the team has stepped up around him to let the potential MVP focus more on his offensive responsibilities.

Center Clint Capela is the anchor that drives the Houston defense, grabbing 11.4 rebounds and blocking 1.8 shots per night. As long as Capela and the Rockets can play even mediocre defense, the sky's the limit for this team.

Houston Rockets v Phoenix Suns

They're shooting (and making) threes at a record rate

The Rockets are attempting an incredible 44 threes a night, more than 10 more deep shots than the next-closest team (Brooklyn with 33.8). They're also making long-range shots at an amazing rate, knocking down 16.1 per game.

They're not making threes at the same percentage as the Warriors (39.9 percent for Golden State to 36.5 percent for Houston), but the drastic difference in volume accounts for more points from beyond the arc for the Rockets.

As long as the Rockets stay dangerous from three-point range, they should continue to put up points at a high rate, making them a tough team to beat.

James Harden
Houston Rockets
Southwest Division
Western Conference
NBA Finals
NBA Playoffs

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