NBA Off-Season Preview: Houston Rockets
Record (41-41) The Houston Rockets did not have the season expected from a team with two all stars such as James Harden and Dwight Howard. Yes they made the playoffs, but barely edged off the Utah Jazz (40-42) for the eight spot in the Western Conference with a .500 record of 41-41. The start of the season began horribly for a team who had come off a Western Conference Finals appearance the year before. Three losses in as many games to begin the season, followed by four wins and then four losses consecutively was not ideal. A 4-7 record after 11 games gave management enough to make the decision to fire head coach Kevin McHale. Assistant coach, J.B. Bickerstaff, took charge at that point and held the position for the rest of the season. Although, the Rockets continued their struggles as a team, particularly on the defensive end, ranking 25th in the NBA in opponent’s points per game with 106.4 points allowed. While turning the ball over 15.9 times per game throughout the regular season which basically is a recipe for disaster. Then in the first round of the playoffs, going up against the Golden State Warriors those stats did not improve one bit. In the five game series, the Rockets allowed an average of 110 points per game and 19 turnovers. There was no reason to believe that Houston would be able to get more than one win, solely getting the one was a stretch. Simply put, the defense was not near good enough in order to potentially pull off an upset against the Warriors. In three of the four losses, the Rockets were blown out by at least 26 points. The series explicitly exposed the team’s flaws and the dire need of acquiring players to play alongside and complement James Harden. Harden was the only one to provide a threat to the Warriors and in the deciding Game 5 of the series put up 35 points compared to the 46 points scored from the rest of the team. In the regular season, he averaged 29 points, 6 rebounds and 7 assists, though his excellent statistical season was not rewarded with a place in any of the All NBA teams (neither 1st, 2nd or 3rd). Quite remarkable if you remember that Harden is the same player who could came as runner up in the MVP voting just last season. The other star, center Dwight Howard, averaged 13.7 points and 11.8 rebounds. Many expected more from Howard especially on offense but given the fact that the team’s offense ran through Harden, not much productivity came out of the big man. Howard on numerous occasions had a look of disinterest and a lot had to do with the limited amounts of touches received throughout games during the season. A move to another team can be on the horizon in order to be the heart of a team. The Houston Rockets have made one move during the offseason in hiring Mike D’Antoni as their new head coach, and with that came plenty of skeptics on whether D’Antoni was the right fit for the team. With a player like Harden who keeps the ball in his possession for long periods and a coach known for wanting shots to be put up early in the shot clock it will be interesting to see how the style of play unfolds. Moreover, the real problem with the Rockets was their lack of defense and D’Antoni is not one to make defense a priority. Therefore, a well-rounded staff of coaches will be much needed in order for D’Antoni to have a chance of success in Houston. With Dwight Howard, Josh Smith and Jason Terry most likely to pursue free agency, the Rockets will be eager to bring in players that can stretch the floor and shoot the ball efficiently. Additionally, Houston holds the 37th and 43rd draft picks in this year’s draft. A point guard and center would be ideal choices as Clint N’Dumba-Capela is the only real backup at center if Howard leaves and an improvement to accompany Patrick Beverley at point guard. International centers Georgios Papagiannis (Greece) and Zhou Qi (China) can potentially be choices as well as Anthony Barber (NC State) at point guard.
NBA Off-Season Previews
Atlantic Division: Boston Celtics – Brooklyn Nets – New York Knicks – Philadelphia 76ers – Toronto Raptors Central Division: Chicago Bulls – Cleveland Cavaliers – Detroit Pistons – Indiana Pacers – Milwaukee Bucks Southeast Division: Atlanta Hawks – Charlotte Hornets – Miami Heat – Orlando Magic – Washington Wizards Southwest Division: Dallas Mavericks – Houston Rockets – Memphis Grizzlies – New Orleans Pelicans – San Antonio Spurs Northwest Division: Denver Nuggets – Minnesota Timberwolves – Oklahoma City Thunder – Portland Trail Blazers – Utah Jazz Pacific Division: Golden State Warriors – Los Angeles Clippers – Los Angeles Lakers – Phoenix Suns – Sacramento Kings