HOUSTON—So far the trade for Chris Paul to give the Houston Rockets another superstar to help James Harden has worked famously.
Now the two, who have both had their fair share of playoff disappointments, will try to carry their regular-season success into the postseason when the Rockets open a first-round series with Minnesota last Sunday night.
The guards have been effusive in their praise for one another, with Harden recently joking that his relationship with the nine-time All-Star was “love at first sight.” Paul didn’t go quite that far, but a huge smile crossed his often serious face when asked how their pairing has worked.
“Unbelievable,” he said. “You just [don’t] get this opportunity too often in a career to play with somebody like James…you get a chance to appreciate greatness.
“What he’s doing on a nightly basis and stuff like that, it’s crazy and I’m in awe,” Paul continued. “I’m grateful I get to play alongside him.”
When told of what Paul said about him, Harden was quick to answer.
“You can tell,” he said. “It feels like it’s been forever but it’s not even been a year yet.”
Their work in the regular season led the Rockets to a franchise-record 65 wins, their first No. 1 seed and sixth straight playoff appearance. They are looking to win the title for the first time capturing back-to-back championships in 1994 to 1995.
For the 32-year-old Paul, it’s a chance for him to finally shake off years off playoff woes after making nine playoff trips without advancing past the second round. But if he is haunted by the ghosts of playoffs past, he wouldn’t acknowledge it and was dismissive when asked if he thought this was his best chance to win it all.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t think about all that.”
What he and the Rockets do know is that they’re facing a talented team in the eighth-seeded Timberwolves, who had to win their last regular-season game to get into the postseason. They ended the NBA’s longest active playoff drought with their berth, putting them back in the postseason for the first time since 2004, when they lost to the Lakers in the Western Conference finals.
Getting the Timberwolves into the playoffs is a huge accomplishment for the entire team, but might mean just a little more to star Karl-Anthony Towns, who made a vow the night Minnesota selected him with the top overall pick in the 2015 draft.
“It means more than I think words can express honestly,” he said. “I made a promise to…Flip Saunders and it meant a lot to me that I was able to keep my word.”