It will be an absolute war to get out of the Western Conference this season. The Thunder are healthy. The Spurs have added LaMarcus Aldridge and David West. The Clippers upgraded their bench, and the Warriors have kept all their important pieces to make another run. All of these teams are legitimate contenders and options to represent the Western Conference in the NBA Finals, but there is one more team that is a reckoning force and can find themselves in the Finals. The Houston Rockets.
Like the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Rockets are a team that dealt with injuries to key players. Dwight Howard missed a career-high 41 games last season with an array of injuries, but returned in time for the postseason, averaging a solid 16.4 points and 14 rebounds per game. Patrick Beverley only started 55 games before having season-ending wrist surgery which led to him also missing the postseason. Patrick Beverley is a defensive annoyance to players, and Dwight Howard is capable of playing at high levels when healthy. Despite these injuries to key players, the Houston Rockets reached the Western Conference Finals last year for the first time since 1997.
The Houston Rockets are now healthy. If they can stay healthy throughout the year, there’s no question that they are capable of going as far or further than they did last season.
“If we stay healthy I think we have a pretty good shot to win it all,” James Harden said.
With the injuries last season, Harden was asked to do way too much for this team, and yet he did it. He stepped up exceptionally and almost won an MVP award. He set career highs in every single statistical category, besides FG %, and finished second in the league in scoring with 27.4 points per game.
Since the Rockets have retained almost all of their key players this season, the chemistry and continuity is there. The addition of Ty Lawson, a huge upgrade at the Rockets weakest position, Lawson averaged 15.2 points and 9.6 assists per game last season, is a difference maker. Lawson’s assists were good for third in the league. Lawson’s presence and ball-handling skills will help take pressure off James Harden and make him more dangerous than he already is. If Ty Lawson finds his rhythm and builds chemistry with the Rockets, then this team can find themselves winning a lot of games.
The Rockets are basically a lock to make the playoffs. Last season they surprisingly finished 2nd in the Western Conference with a 56-26 record despite their injuries. Even though they were very successful last season, they still have some aspects to work on if they want to win a championship. Houston led the league in 3-pointers attempted but had a 34.8 three-point percentage, which was below the league average. A team that shoots this many threes should have a reason for doing so such as the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors, who were second in 3-pointers attempted, launched 400 less threes than the Rockets but converted a league leading 39.8% last season.
Also, the Rockets were last in 2-pointers attempted but were fifth in the league in 2-point percentage with .506. This team must adjust their offensive strategy accordingly. They do not have the shooters who can efficiently take and make more threes than the Warriors, but they do have talent across the board – James Harden, Dwight Howard, Trevor Ariza, and Ty Lawson – who can score, create space, and must be respected by defenses.
A championship run is truly possible. James Harden is one of the best scorers in the league at only 25 years old. He has not even reached his prime yet and has put up astounding numbers. Expect even better things to come from Harden. Additionally, Trevor Ariza is a great all-around player. He has a versatile offensive game, is a solid rebounder, and can guard every position on the court. Ariza played the biggest role on this team last season behind Harden.
The league may have a hard time from keeping Houston in check if they stay healthy. A lot of this team’s success will revolve around if Dwight Howard can remain on the court for at least the majority of the season. The Houston Rockets finished just three wins short of the Finals last year, and you can bet that they are hungry to taste the Finals after how close they came. Do not be surprised if another MVP leads his team to a championship this season, just like Stephen Curry did last year.
photo via llananba