|Knicks to test Paul's influence on Rockets' offense|
HOUSTON -- Soon enough, the sample size won't be so small that it will be easy to disregard, and the influence Chris Paul has made on Houston's offense will be cause for examination.
With the Rockets (14-4) set to host the New York Knicks (10-8) on Saturday night at Toyota Center, they continue to play at extraordinary levels with Paul in the fold. After missing 14 games with a left knee injury, Paul has provided an already potent Houston offense a boost.
Over their last three games, all with Paul in the starting lineup, the Rockets averaged 124 points while posting a 121.9 offensive rating. Houston shot 49.2 percent from the floor while making 19 3-pointers a game at a 44.5 percent clip for a 60.6 effective shooting percentage.
Their three victories over the Suns, Grizzlies and Nuggets came by 20-plus points, with the Rockets producing a 26.4 net rating during that stretch. In short, the Rockets have dominated with Paul playing alongside James Harden, with obstacles to their pairing yet to manifest.
"No, it's not over," Harden said of the adjustment process.
"I told you it's not going to be as hard as everyone makes it seem like. We got two who are willing passers and want to get guys involved and want to make the right plays. It makes it easier for everyone."
Paul, despite missing a month after hobbling through the season opener at Golden State, has performed as though he didn't miss any time at all. He has averaged 17 points, 9.3 assists and 2.3 steals in just 24.2 minutes per game since his return to action. Paul has produced a shooting line of .586/.556/.875 while playing in pitch-perfect concert with Harden with nary a hiccup.
"He's a smart player," Rockets forward Trevor Ariza said of Paul.
"He's a really, really, really good player. And James is a good player, so when you have players that just study the game and (have) great minds, they figure out ways to work together. It's still not all the way there, still not as smooth as it's going to be, but we're making steps in the right direction."
The Rockets' 119-97 road win over the Knicks on Nov. 1, a game in which they led by as many as 29 points, marked the start of their current run of nine wins in 10 games. For the Knicks, that was their lone loss in a 6-1 stretch and, entering their showdown with the Cleveland Cavaliers 12 days later, the Knicks had won seven of nine games before blowing a 23-point lead and losing that evening.
The Knicks are 3-3 since then, including that come-from-ahead defeat. They coughed up another double-digit in Atlanta on Friday, dropping to 1-5 on the road with a 116-104 loss despite leading by 17 points in the first quarter.
For all the hype of their 7-2 run, the Knicks have been pedestrian ever since, ranking just above the bottom 10 in the league in offensive (104), defensive (104.2) and net rating (-0.2), as well as pace (97.9 possessions per 48 minutes).
"We can't go back; we can't correct anything right now. All we can do is move forward," Knicks guard Tim Hardaway Jr. said of facing the Rockets in the second game of a back-to-back. "We've got a very important one and they're a great team and they're shooting the heck out of the ball as well. Whatever we do defensively we've got to do it with a maximum effort."