NBA: Houston Rockets Season Preview

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Well folks, the absolute best time of the year is finally here. We have college football in full force, with UT threatening for playoff contention, Texas Tech seems to be on the correct side of relevancy for the first time since 2013, and A&M is in the middle of a promising season. We also have The World Champion Houston Astros in the middle of their quest to repeat and solidify themselves as the best team of this generation. And now we have the beginning of what should be an incredibly fun NBA season for the Houston Rockets. Brace yourselves, much like the NBA regular season, this blog may run a bit long, but it will be action packed, dramatic, and hella petty! Lets go!

Full disclosure, I am not just a Rockets fan. I don’t simply root for them. I live and breath Houston Rockets basketball! It’s honestly been a problem. I will prioritize watching Rockets basketball over almost anything. I rarely socialize with anyone who admits to being a James Harden hater (and there are many), even right now I am writing this blog in stead of studying for a test that I have tomorrow morning. By the time this is posted, I’d have already given a solid C effort on the test… But its okay because Rockets basketball is BACK!

So now that you know that about me, you really should not be surprised about whats to follow…

As soon as Chris Paul went down with what turned out to be a Grade 2 hamstring strain, I officially declared that there would be no 2018 NBA Champion unless that team was the Houston Rockets. Sure, Golden State went on to defeat the Cavs in what was quite literally a 12 on 1 matchup. LeBron is the GOAT, there’s no debating that. But even he could not overcome the star-power of GS, awful officiating (more on that soon), and his own teammates going completely brain-dead late in the only game they had a chance to win. But anyone who watched the Western Conference Finals knows (even if they don’t admit it) that it took a combination of 3 absurd oddities in order for the Warriors to get past the Rockets. 1. Obviously, the Chris Paul injury. He was the best player in that series, he proved time and again that he was not going to let GS win down the stretch of these games. Guys, games 4 and 5 were not even that close. 2. Games 6 and 7 were quite simply the worst officiated games I have ever seen in my 10+ years of closely following the NBA. It was a joke, GS was basically tackling defenders in order to get open 3’s, Harden got fouled 3 times on shots from behind the arc and not once did he his free-throws, I could go on and on… And 3. The only one that was actually the Rockets fault, the extreme aberration of going on an 0-256 (basically) from the 3 point line in game 7. And EVEN with all of those factors, the Rockets lead by double digits in the second half of both potential close out games! Even if I take off my red-tented goggles, it’s obvious that if even one of those circumstances go slightly more in Houston’s direction, they close it out and go on to win the title. But they didn’t, so the Warriors and Cavs played an exhibition series for the right to call themselves 2018 Champs*. I said it after game 7, and it has remained true, losing to that smug, elitist, soft, Warrior team in the Western Conference Finals the way that we did changed me. I will never get over it. I think about it at least once a day. The Rockets did something that NOBODY said they could do, they assembled a team capable of beating greatest team ever, and t was taken away from them by Scott Foster and a bad hamstring. The Rockets were the better team… But my gosh, how soon we forget!

If you’ve paid attention to NBA coverage over the offseason and leading up to the start of the new season, you would think that the Rockets were just some cinderella story that has no chance to match last years potential. Just yesterday ESPN dropped their first power rankings… 1. GS, 2. Boston, 3. TORONTO, 4. the little ole 65 win Rockets. A couple days before that, NBA TV’s The Starters debated on their show who posed a greater threat to the Warriors, the Rockets or the Jazz… The bloody Utah Jazz! Fox Sports’ Jason McEntyre (probably spelled that wrong, don’t care because he’s a complete idiot!) picked the Rockets to finish in the bottom half of the Western Conference playoffs… All this because of the loss of journeymen Trevor Ariza, and Luc Mbah a Moute. Now, I love Ariza as much as any Rockets fan, and Luc was a nice surprise last season. But acting as if these guys are irreplaceable is idiotic at best. Trevor Ariza missed 15 games last season, in those games the Rockets were 14-1. The one loss was the final regular season game when they literally signed dudes off the street to keep from playing the rotation guys. Basically nobody played in that game. Oh, and that 0-578 3 point stretch in game 7 was lead by Ariza going 0-11 himself. This is who the national media thinks is irreplaceable!? Now for Luc Mbah a Moute… Again, he was a nice player and a big part of the team for most of the season. But who remembers what Luc was doing during the playoffs? The answer is absolutely nothing. Coming off of a second dislocated shoulder, he was completely out of the playoff rotation. And who would like to tell me the state of Luc Mbah a Moute’s career before he got to Houston and apparently became James Worthy? I’ll answer that one too… He was a bum! Thats why Morey was able to sign him to a vet minimum contract. Once again, if you think that either of these guys’ contributions can’t be replaced fairly easily, your an idiot. Its just that simple. Maybe if Morey didn’t do anything to make up for these losses there would be a point here, but that’s obviously not the case. So with that said, lets look at the 2018-19 roster and talk about how this team can get back to the WCF and take what is rightfully there’s!

So far the focus has been on the loss of Ariza and Luc, but the Rockets also lost sharpshooting big man Ryan Anderson, as well as some fringe rotation guys like Tarik Black and Joe Johnson. Anderson was awful last season. When he went down with injury, PJ Tucker took over the starting PF job and the Rockets went to another level. He’s a good player, and he’s probably the nicest player in the league, so I will continue to root for him. But the Rockets will not miss him or his monster contract. Trading him was addition by subtraction… But is was not the only addition made by Morey this offseason.

The Rockets will replace Ariza with James Ennis, another journeyman wing who’s career has been a carbon copy of Mbah a Moute’s was before he came to Houston. Only difference is that he’s a better athlete, he’s already shown his ability to score in transition during the pre-season. He’ll match Ariza defensively, and be a mor constant threat on offense. Another minimum signing that’s going to look a lot better than some expected is the guy that will likely take Luc’s role, though he has a much different skill set. That guy is Michael Carter-Williams. MCW is another guy who has basically been a journeyman. His career started off hot, winning ROY. But that draft class was a joke, and he’s never been able to improve off of that season. With that said, he’s a really good athlete, better than average wing defender, and has shown an ability to get to rim at a high success rate so far in the pre-season. He will likely play more of a wing with the Rockets, as opposed to being primarily a PG so far in his career. The Rockets have more natural spacing in their offense than any team in the league, and while MCW is not a threat from behind the arc, he’ll be able to attack and create offense much like Shawn Livingston does for Golden State. Before we talk about Carmelo, the Rockets didn’t just get cap relief in the Ryan Anderson trade. They also acquired young big man Marquese Criss, and combo guard Brandon Knight. Criss seems like a great backup option for Clint, but I don’t see him cracking the rotation at this point. Knight is still dealing with a knee issue, and at this point its unclear what his role will be. At the very least, he should provide some nice depth at guard to help modify the minutes of CP3 and Harden during the regular season.

Okay, lets talk about Carmelo Anthony… Who remembers the narrative a year ago, after OKC pulled off the trade for Melo? All of a sudden the fact that Daryl Morey pulled off a masterful trade to get the Point god, all of the talk was about Westbrook, PG13, and Melo being the Warriors biggest threat in the West. Well Melo never found his role with that team, refused to come off the bench, and was a defensive liability to say the least. The Thunder struggled on their way to the 4th seed in the west, and that “big 3” ended before it ever got started. When that group got together last year, I said it reminded me of when Houston teamed up Scottie Pippen, Barkley, and Hakeem in the late 90’s, in that in a few years Melo would be long gone on and nobody will remember the fact that he played with the Thunder. Much like nobody remembers that Scottie Pippen played for the Rockets. I get that it might seem a bit contradictory to claim I was right about it not working out in OKC, and then claim that it will work for Melo in Houston. But it will, and here’s why. For starters, Melo has a clear role on this team. That’s already been proven to not be the case in Houston. In OKC, Melo refused to come off the bench. In Houston, he’s stated that he will do whatever he’s asked to do in order to help the team win, and when the Rockets were at full health during the pre-season, guess who’s been coming off the bench!? That’s right. Melo has shown more self-awareness and a “team first” mentality this pre-season than he did all year in OKC last year. Why is that? Because there’s a proven culture of winning with this group. Melo wants to fit in, and I’m confident that he will. Now, this won’t be Denver Melo, NY Melo, or even Olympic Melo. Expect to see a brand new guy in Houston, 6th Man Melo is unselfish and all about winning. With his role clearly defined, thats exactly what he’ll do in Houston.

We’renow over 1800 words into this and I have barely mentioned anyone that contributed to last years 65 win Western Conference Finalist team. Most of the guys that really mattered to that 2018 team are back. A couple of guys you may have heard of, the reigning MVP James Harden, the Point god Chris Paul, former 6th Man of the year Eric Gordon, the junk yard dog and leader of this defense PJ Tucker, and the best possible Center to fit with this group of Hall of Famers, Clint Cappela. Not to mention the best offensive mind in basketball Mike D’Antoni. The loss of assistant coach Jeff Bzdelik will be a tough hurdle to get past, but this team will still be fine defensively simply because of the leadership on the floor. When Chris Paul was asked about the defense during media day, he responded by saying anyone not willing to play defense will have to answer to PJ Tucker. Similarly, Gerald Green was asked about the losing a leader like Ariza. He answered, “Everybody knows who the leaders are. 3 and 13. Everybody else is going to fall in line. If they don’t fall in line, thats why I’m here.” Honestly, how can you not love Gerald Green. The dude would die for this team!

I say all of this to try and prove that this team, despite what the bums in the national media are saying, is better than they were last year. Will they match that 65 win mark again, I don’t know. But they will go after home-court again, and the roster is even more equipped to take down the Champs* this season than they were last year. Compare the rosters for yourself…

2017-18

PG: Chris Paul – Eric Gordon

SG: James Harden – Eric Gordon – Gerald Green

SF: Trevor Ariza – Luc Mbah a Moute – Joe Johnson

PF: PJ Tucker – Ryan Anderson

C: Clint Capela – Nene/Tarik Black

2018-19

PG: Chris Paul – Eric Gordon – Brandon Knight

SG: James Harden – Eric Gordon – Michael Carter-Williams

SF: James Ennis – Michael Carter Williams/Gerald Green

PF: PJ Tucker – Carmelo Anthony

C: Clint Capela – Isiah Hartenstein/Marquese Criss/Nene

Its not even really debatable… This roster is younger, deeper, and just simply better than it was last season. I genuinely believe that James Ennis will be an upgrade over an aging Trevor Ariza. Eric Gordon and Carmelo Anthony will be BY FAR the best 1-2 punch off the bench in the league. Someone I haven’t even mentioned, Isiah Hartensein is going to be a nice surprise at backup Center. PJ Tucker will do what he does. And most importantly, Chris Paul and James Harden are the two most hungry superstars in the league. They will be even better in their second year together. The narrative probably won’t allow for harden to win his second consecutive MVP, but rest assured he’ll be just as good if not better this season. Buckle up, this is going to be another fun NBA season in Houston, but this time it will end with the rightful team hoisting the Larry O’Brian Trophy!

Prediction:

Rockets get the top seed once again, going 63-19. Sweep Nuggets in the first round, take out the Jazz once again in round 2, and defeat the Warriors in 6 games to get to the Finals. In a rematch of the 1981 and 1986 Finals, Rockets Vs Celtics for the Title. Rockets in 5. Boston fans will just be getting over losing to the Astros in the ALCS when they’ll once again be sent home crying by the new Title Town. Lets Freaking GO!

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