The Houston Rockets have won eight straight, the longest active streak in the NBA. A big reason for the Rockets' success is the heightened play of leading MVP candidate James Harden and the coaching wizardry of Mike D'Antoni, who is among the top early candidates for Coach of the Year.
D'Antoni has revamped the offense with Harden at point guard. Houston has the third-best offense, is one of the best 3-point shooting teams and Harden leads the league in assists with 11.8 a game. While D'Antoni's offensive sets and overall strategy have contributed, according to his former player Raja Bell, Houston is succeeding because the Rockets coach empowers his players.
"We predicated everything on ball movement and sharing the ball," Bell said on CBS Sports' NBA Crossover. "And there was a night where [Leandro Barbosa] had missed me five times and he shot contested shots. I was like 'Damn [Coach D'Antoni], [Barbosa] just needs to make the extra pass.' And he said to me, 'Raj, look, yes L.B. should've made the extra pass but if I tell him that, he's going to start second guessing himself and that's the last thing I want.' [D'Antoni] doesn't want you second guessing anything you do, he provides the ultimate freedom and confidence in you and that's why his teams are so effective offensively."
The freedom and confidence Bell says D'Antoni gives to his players is clear to see. The Rockets have the freedom to bomb away from deep without repercussion and it has resulted in players like Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon having resurgent seasons. Harden's long leash is also apparent and it is allowing his overall game to thrive. And because of D'Antoni's confidence in his players, the Rockets are tied for third in the West and look poised to be a force in the postseason.