Coming off a borderline terrible season in which the Rockets only won 41 games, just a year removed from a run to the Western Conference Finals, Houston let Dwight Howard move on to Atlanta and made some serious changes to their roster. The team has added serious offensive firepower, but can they keep everyone healthy? And with new head coach Mike D’Antoni in place, can he bring the roster together and create some semblance of chemistry?
Here’s what you’ll need to know about the Rockets for this upcoming season.
What is the Mavericks biggest challenge against the Rockets?
With the addition of Eric Gordon in the backcourt, presumably playing many of his minutes alongside James Harden, the Rockets offense will be abso-freaking-lutely explosive. It seems like Harden will play point guard at least part of the time, instantly creating matchup problems for most teams. Eric Gordon’s best skill is scoring, and with spacing created by 3&D small forward Trevor Ariza and new stretch-four Ryan Anderson, there will be plenty of room for Gordon and Harden to wreak havoc on defenses.
This team is going to take a lot of threes and any team with James Harden is a challenge to defend, Dallas has to bring their toughest defense and their rotations have to be precise and decisive. If rotations are slow, Harden and Gordon will slash the defense to pieces, Harden will take 15 free throws, and Anderson and Ariza will catch fire from downtown, leaving tons of space for Clint Capella or Josh Smith to destroy the defense with vicious rim runs.
You won’t have to wait very long to get your first look at the Rockets. Houston rolls into Big D on Oct. 28 for the first game in American Airlines Center, just two days after the season opener against Indiana. Then two days later, Dallas and Houston match up again, this time in Houston. Dallas has a little more than a month to make adjustments and then on Dec. 10 they head to Houston for the third meeting of the season. Just two weeks later Houston finishes the season series in Dallas, meaning all four games will be played before we even reach 2017.
How has Houston changed over the summer?
After Houston's inconsistent and disappointing season last year, they made several changes to personnel and playing style this off-season. They let Dwight Howard, Jason Terry, Marcus Thornton and Terrence Jones walk in free-agency and opted instead to sign some potent offensive weapons for new head coach Mike D’Antoni to work with. Gordon has struggled with health his entire career, but great when healthy. They added Ryan Anderson to stretch the floor and Nene to bolster their size and scoring presence inside.
Gordon is possibly Houston’s biggest question mark this year. Apart from his rookie campaign, he has never played more than 64 games in a year, and has missed 75 games over the last 3 seasons. When healthy, Gordon is a dynamic scorer with ability to stretch the floor or penetrate and be a secondary playmaker. Ryan Anderson adds what Houston has been lacking for so many years, a true stretch four to complement their guards and help stretch the floor. Anderson is has been one of the best shooting big men in the league, but has also struggled with injuries, missing a total of 97 games over the his last three seasons. Clint Capela is entering his third season, and he and Nene will split most of the time at the center spot for Houston.
How will the Mavericks matchup against Houston?
The Mavericks starting backcourt of Deron Williams and Wesley Matthews will have their hands full on the defensive end. The matchups get interesting in the front court because we don’t know if Dirk will guard the less offensively inclined Ariza, leaving Barnes to match up with the bigger Anderson, or if Carlisle will have them play straight up and risk Anderson making Dirk chase him all over the court and fight through screens. Bogut should be more than capable of handling Capela and helping defend the rim on drives.
Houston’s bench featuring newly traded for Tyler Ennis, Josh Smith, Corey Brewer, Nene, and Patrick Beverley is not quite as loaded offensively but Dallas’ second unit of Justin Anderson, Dwight Powell, Devin Harris, J.J and Mejri might have some issues with the dynamic abilities of Smith and Beasley, and they could struggle to create on the offensive end against the length of the Houston reserves.
Houston will take an absolutely ridiculous amount of threes and if Dallas can’t run shooters off the three-point line and control penetration, it won’t end well for the Mavs. As always, containing Harden is the key to stopping Houston, and a combination of Matthews, Anderson and Barnes should be able to do a solid job of that.
Matchup to watch
It’s Wes vs. Harden, since Harden will be the best player on the court and we know the kind of lock-down defense Wes is capable of playing. If Matthews can stay out of foul trouble and keep Harden off the free throw line, the Mavs will have a much better chance of being successful against Houston.
Where will the Rockets finish in the Wild West?
With Houston’s explosive and dynamic offense, the only thing holding them back will be defense and health. If everyone stays relatively healthy (70-plus games) and they can at least put up a fight defensively, I think they can win around 44 games and finish as a real contender for the No. 8 seed. If health continues to be an issue for Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson, Houston will likely have their hands full trying to scrap together 35 to 40 wins.