I have become a night owl of late and this has led me to watching more Western Conference NBA games than usual. Which means I am seeing more and more of the defending champion Golden State Warriors and the upstart Houston Rockets.

NBA pundits and followers seem to have already penciled in the Warriors into the NBA Finals out West. I am going against the grain here and predict that the Rockets will knock Golden State off. And here are some reasons why.

Houston already has the best record in the NBA. On the strength of its current 15 game winning streak, the Rockets have shot right past the Warriors.

They have one of the top two offenses in the league and have finally decided to play some defense. After languishing near the bottom of defensive statistics for years, Houston now has a top-ten defense.

They also have the likely MVP in James Harden. The arrival of Chris Paul to the roster has freed Harden up to do what he does best, score the basketball. No longer does he have to bring the ball up and start the offense. Paul does that, along with taking over at times, which is enabling Harden to play fewer minutes. Harden should not wear down in the playoffs like he has in the past. Harden and Paul are dynamic together, but the real value of having both of them is the flexibility they offer.

Houston has surrounded Harden and Paul with some nice role players. Eric Gordon will likely win the Sixth Man award this year. Clint Capela defends the rim with shot blocking skills that is a huge part of the defensive improvement. Trevor Iriza is a defensive stopper who can hit the open three off the penetration of Harden or Paul.

The 2017-18 Rockets are playing consistently night after night this season. In other words, they are beating good teams. Ten of the wins during the current 15-game streak have come against teams with winning records. And a majority of the victories came on the road. Houston has lost just eight games all season to teams in the West. Golden State has dropped 11 against Western opponents.

Those who question my prediction will point out that Harden and Paul both have a history of disappointing play in playoff action. Together, I just do not see it. Remember when it happens, you heard it here first. The Rockets have taken two out of three from Golden State this season. Look for similar success this spring. The Rockets are that good.

Has It Been That Long?

I read this week that  three-time Daytona 500 champion and four-time NASCAR series champion, Jeff Gordon is among five new nominees for the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

My first thought was asking myself how long Gordon has been out of racing. It seems like he was winning races a short time ago. But I guess time has passed and he will surely be a first ballot selection. Voting takes place in late May.

Gordon’s 93 career Cup wins is third on the all-time list behind Hall of Fame drivers Richard Petty (200) and David Pearson (105).