With Harden cloud lifted, Rockets having fun and winning
Houston Rockets guard Sterling Brown (0) and forward David Nwaba (2) celebrate their win over the San Antonio Spurs in an NBA basketball game in San Antonio, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

The Rockets aren’t coming out and saying they are having more fun since the James Harden trade, but it sure looks that way.

Reading between the lines, it sounds as though a sigh of relief was released when the Rockets sent Harden to Brooklyn in a blockbuster trade. Suddenly, the Rockets are playing winning basketball and talking playoffs.

They have won seven of their last eight games following Thursday night’s 115-103 win over Memphis.

“We have just created a fun atmosphere where we just come in every day, we all hang out and have fun and play freely; so it’s been good,” said shooting guard Eric Gordon.

That’s in stark contrast to the beginning of the season when stars Russell Westbrook and Harden made it known they were ready to move on. Westbrook was traded prior to the season. After brief absence Harden showed up, but it was clear that he no longer wanted to be a part of the Rockets. It took a few weeks but finally he was moved in a deal that primarily brought the Rockets a lot of draft capital for future use.

With Harden and Westbrook gone, along with coach Mike D’Antoni, this version of the Rockets does look a lot different than the Rockets last season, and a lot different than even the team Stephen Silas thought he was inheriting.

The Rockets no longer have one dynamic scorer, but they have new players like Christian Wood, Victor Oladipo, John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins who can share the scoring load while also giving the team a defensive presence that had not previously been there.

They have been able to use their defense to spark their offense. Such was the case during Monday night’s 136-106 win over Oklahoma City in which the Rockets converted an NBA record tying 11 3-pointers in a quarter and finished with a franchise record 28 treys made.

Silas admits he initially thought he was inheriting a strong offensive team that would keep defenses on its heels.

“But it’s becoming very apparent that we have guys who can really get after it on the defensive end and we can create offense off our defense,” Silas said.

Recently, the Rockets went on an impressive six-game winning streak that raised some eyebrows in the Western Conference. The Rockets, who were 11-10, are still on the outside of the top eight in the Western Conference in the first quarter of the season, but they believe they can jump into contention with more runs like the six-game winning streak.

“It is surprising that it happened this quickly, but when you have a bunch of guys who really care about winning, anything is possible because we do have the talent to be a playoff team,” Gordon said. “But we still have a long way to go to where we have to continue to do this for long periods of time.”

Follow Terrance Harris on Twitter @terranceharris