Rockets' Mike D'Antoni says season can be cherished even without a championship

LOS ANGELES -- Mike D'Antoni believes that a franchise-record-setting season, and a potential MVP campaign by James Harden, won't be diminished if the Houston Rockets fail to win a championship.

"I read something the other day [that said] sure James Harden should be the MVP, sure Chris Paul and James have been great, sure they set a franchise record [for wins by] about six games' worth, but they'll ultimately be judged by if they win a championship or not," D'Antoni said before pausing. "Really? It doesn't diminish what these guys have done."

D'Antoni's response came after he was asked how he celebrates the achievement of posting the best record in the regular season in the NBA compared to when he won multiple regular-season league championships as a player and coach in Europe, where they are celebrated.

The Rockets have clinched the best record in the NBA for this season, marking the first time D'Antoni's team has done so since he led the Phoenix Suns to a league-best 62-20 regular-season record in 2004-05. However, that Steve Nash-led team lost in the Western Conference finals to the San Antonio Spurs, 4-1.

"So how I celebrate is I enjoy every freaking day I go into the locker room with these guys and go on the court and all the games we've won and all the trips we've made back from games on the road back [as] winners, that's what's enjoyable," D'Antoni said. "Now obviously, we would love to celebrate it with a championship, everybody would.

"But it doesn't diminish Steve Nash and how good he was for three or four years [with the Suns] in this league. I just don't buy into that. I don't buy it is all about the rings because there are a lot of guys that got rings that can't play a lick. They happened to be on the bench with some great players, so I don't buy into that totally."

D'Antoni understands how many will judge a team's success ultimately by how far it goes in the playoffs. Over a four-season span, from 2004-05 through 2007-08, D'Antoni coached the Suns to a 232-96 (.707) mark that included back-to-back trips to the Western Conference finals, in 2005 and 2006. But his career playoff record is 32-38 going into this postseason.

Harden is posting another MVP-caliber season as he entered Tuesday's game averaging 30.5 points, 8.7 assists and 5.4 rebounds. Paul, in his first season with the Rockets, entered the night averaging 18.6 points, 7.9 assists and 5.4 rebounds despite playing just 58 games due to injuries this season.

But D'Antoni believes that a healthy Paul will take much of the postseason pressure and stress of carrying the team off Harden.

"I think he has less minutes than last year and a lot less strain that has translated to about 10 more wins than last year, that's for sure," D'Antoni said of Harden, who entered Tuesday night averaging nearly one minute less per game than a season ago. "Having Chris here, that was the thought. ... Probably the stress on trying to make every play, especially down the stretch, especially in big games, especially in the playoffs.

"And now he doesn't have to make every big play. So for both of them, and Chris was the same way with his old teams and I had Nash, the same way, they had to make every play and it can get to you a little bit. This way it is a little bit less."