HOUSTON -- Chemistry is fluid.
When you win, everybody gets along. When you lose, everybody blames each other.
The latter hasn't been an issue this season for the Houston Rockets, who are 33-12 heading into Friday's clash against the Golden State Warriors. The Rockets won a double-overtime thriller in Oakland on Dec. 1, which started a 10-game winning streak, and had a stretch where they won 20 of 22 games.
The team has done this despite facing its share of adversity. The Rockets have had to deal with injuries to starting point guard Patrick Beverley (knee), starting center Clint Capela (fractured leg) and sixth man Eric Gordon (toe). Starting power forward Ryan Anderson also missed two games with the flu.
One big reason the Rockets have still been able to thrive, of course, is the play of MVP candidate James Harden, who leads the league in points produced and assists. Plus, the Rockets have four of the top seven players in the league in 3-point field goals made and set an NBA record with 27 consecutive games making at least 10 3-point field goals.
But while talent is important, the Rockets point to that elusive "chemistry" as the secret to their success.
"That's the biggest thing on any team, no matter how good or how bad, you can have a really bad team and have bad chemistry or be really good," Beverley said. "It's the only thing that matters. I think our chemistry is real."
Following Wednesday's victory over Milwaukee, several Rockets players received text messages in the locker room from Anderson, at home nursing a stomach virus, offering congratulations. After Capela went down with a fractured fibula on Dec. 17, Beverley and Harden were among those who visited the third-year center.
And in another sign of bonding this season, the Rockets rallied around veteran forward Trevor Ariza during a physical game against Dallas on Dec. 27, when the Mavericks' Salah Mejri made a derogatory remark about Ariza's family, according to sources. Ariza waited outside the Mavericks locker room with numerous teammates by his side, wanting to speak with Mejri, who later denied saying anything about Ariza's family.
While not addressing what happened with Mejri, Beverley pointed to things such as the text from Anderson as big steps for the team.
"Little stuff like that goes a long way," he said. "Chemistry is most of the battle, we got a chill locker room, we got a real cool coaching staff and real cool players. We all like each other, and we all enjoy each other's success -- that's how it's been this whole year. When we do lose games, we're not down or we don't point fingers. We regroup and get out there the next night."
Last season's chemistry was fractured.
Dwight Howard wanted the ball more often, and Harden and the rest of his mates weren't giving it up, at least not on a consistent basis.
This is not to say Howard was the source of the problem. Harden was still learning how to be a leader and the struggles of the team waned on everybody. When things went wrong, numerous team meetings occurred but did not translate into victories. Houston finished 41-41, reaching the postseason as the eighth seed before being eliminated by Golden State in the opening round.
Harden can't put a finger on what went wrong last season, but has said the communication has improved among players and expressed he's happier this season, which seems evident by his play.
He has a coach utilizing his offensive skills as a passer and scorer with outside shooters and athletic big men to push the offense. D'Antoni's easygoing style, meshed with the rest of the relaxed coaching staff, has been a hit with players -- especially after losses.
"That's key, it's a long season [and] things are going to happen," Harden said. "The more you linger on it, worry about [what happened] the last game, you might let two or three slip-ups happen. We do a really nice job of bouncing back. We got the Warriors on Friday and a five-game road trip, so the next two or three are going to be tough. For us, it's a test for us. We got a couple slip-ups already -- as long as we bounce back we'll be good."
The start of this season was expected to be tough, with seven of the first eight games on the road. Houston gained big wins at San Antonio, Golden State and Oklahoma City and swept the season series against lowly opponents such as Dallas and Brooklyn. There were some bad losses: opening night against the Lakers, Monday at Miami, and the Rockets still feel they blew a chance to win at Cleveland on Nov. 1.
Unlike last season, though, letdowns or bad losses can be counted on one hand.
"It just shows that we're all about trying to get a great seed to go into the playoffs and trying to be the team we can be," D'Antoni said. "Sometimes you lose your swagger, sometimes things don't go your way. We get guys beat up and guys get sick, we just got to find an extra will to play as well as you can, and they've done that all year. They've done that from the beginning of training camp. They've been on a mission, and they wanted to be as good as they can be. And James is leading them on the floor, and a lot of guys are pitching in and making it all possible."