Entering Wednesday, the Houston Rockets (11-3) and Denver Nuggets (9-3) have the second and third-best record in the Western Conference, respectively.
However, neither team has been quite as good as advertised through the first month of the season.
The Rockets have been better lately, winning eight games in a row, but they had one of the worst defences in the league to start the season and the pairing of Russell Westbrook and James Harden is still a work in progress.
The Nuggets, meanwhile, have one of the league's best defences but currently rank in the bottom half of the league in offensive efficiency. Nikola Jokic has been a big reason for the team's slide offensively, as he hasn't been quite the same player who finished fourth in MVP voting last season and dominated the San Antonio Spurs and Portland Trail Blazers in his first postseason run.
With that in mind, our NBA.com Staff gives their take on which team they're more confident in moving forward.
Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles): I'm more confident in the Rockets right now, but I still prefer Denver's ceiling.
Basically, other than Harden getting off to the historic start that he has, the Rockets have been sort of what I expected so far this season. I figured they'd be a team that wins 50-plus games even if Harden and Westbrook aren't quite on the same page because of how well Mike D'Antoni's offence suits both of their games. I'm just still not sold that this team is a legitimate contender in the Western Conference, mainly because I'm still in I'll-believe-it-when-I-see-it mode for both Harden and Westbrook in the playoffs.
The Nuggets, meanwhile, have gotten to a far more underwhelming start, but I do think Jokic will improve as the season goes on and I like the other talent they have on the roster, from Jamal Murray to Malik Beasley. As currently constructed, I'm not sure this team is a legitimate contender either, but I think they're far more likely than the Rockets to make a big move between now and the trade deadline, both because they have the assets to do so and because they could talk themselves into being one piece away.
That player won't be Bradley Beal anymore, as he isn't eligible to be traded this season after signing his extension in October, but maybe the Nuggets will go after a Chris Paul, Goran Dragic or Blake Griffin. Again, there's no knowing if those players will become available, but if they do, the Nuggets can put together a compelling package.
To summarize: Houston gets my vote right now, but I wouldn't be surprised if Denver looks like a greater threat by the season's end.
Micah Adams (@MicahAdams13): This might age horribly but I'm taking the Nuggets.
As a regular-season team, it's the Rockets. Harden is unlike any other offensive player in the league and Westbrook has injected several tanks worth of NOS into the engine that is Mike D'Antoni's offence. Harden is unstoppable, Westbrook is relentless and Houston currently sits atop the league in offensive efficiency while also playing at one of the league's fastest paces. They are the Fast and the Furious with Harden and Westbrook playing the roles of Dominic Toretto and Brian O'Conner.
But the playoffs aren't about living a quarter of a mile at a time in 10-second cars.
What works going in a straight line isn't the same as what works going around hairpin turns or over undulating terrain or when you have to fix a flat tire.
Houston still feels... predictable. When teams throw the kitchen sink at stopping Harden, will Westbrook have what it takes to take advantage? I'm skeptical.
The Nuggets, on the other hand, can beat you in a variety of ways even if they've seemed sluggish out of the games. Given the manner in which he played in last year's playoffs, I trust that Jokic will return to form. Murray, Gary Harris, Paul Millsap, Will Barton, Malik Beasley, Monte Morris, Torrey Craig... Denver is deep; so deep in fact that the team taking the floor right now might not be the one that takes the floor when it's all said and done.
Denver is not as talented, which makes this feeling tenuous at best and wildly off-base at worst. But on Nov. 20 of 2019, that's where I stand.
Kyle Irving (@KyleIrv_): The Rockets.
They're the more threatening team even if the Nuggets have more depth than Houston does.
It comes down to the mere fact that the Rockets Harden and Westbrook - two players that are much more intimidating to face than Jokic and Murray. Even if the Nuggets finish with a better record in the regular season - which they probably will - I'd bet that Western Conference contenders would much rather see Denver in the playoffs than Houston.
Harden is scoring at a ridiculous pace and could become the first 40-plus points per game scorer since Wilt Chamberlain in 1963. Westbrook is a triple-double threat who plays like every time he steps on the court could be his last. Even though this duo doesn't have a great history of big playoff performances, I'm still going to ride with them over Denver's depth.
I trust that this year will be different with Harden and Westbrook finally silencing the doubters.
Carlan Gay (@TheCarlanGay): Give me the Rockets.
The James Harden and Russell Westbrook marriage has been a complete success one-month into the NBA season. Harden is playing at an MVP level once again and in Westbrook, he has the perfect sidekick both on and off the court. On the court, Westbrook has the Rockets playing fast once again. Houston currently sits third in pace at 106.04.
Off the court, Westbrook has become a mouthpiece to preach about Harden's greatness. He'll also be the mouthpiece to deflect the criticism that will come Harden's way should the Rockets hit a rough patch.
Oh, and by the way, Houston's defence isn't that bad - look it up.
Denver is a good team, I just don't see them hitting the peak that Houston can hit. So I'm rolling with the Rockets until proven otherwise.
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