Expectations going into the 2013-2014 season will be higher than normal for the Houston Rockets. Landing big man Dwight Howard to go with all-star James Harden and company brings the Rockets into a rare spotlight. Last season, the Los Angeles Lakers landed Howard and Steve Nash, and everybody’s expectations became “championship of bust” for the Lakers. Injuries, chemistry, and overall player morale stood in the way of the Lakers reaching their goal last season of a championship, or even a first round victory. Here are 3 things that could prevent the Rockets from winning the southwest division:
1) Injury Bug
It’s tough to say Dwight Howard is “injury prone” after hurting his back in Orlando 2 seasons ago, and coming back early to help the Lakers last season. The 6’10 big man missed a total of 6 games last season, and also averaged 17.1 points per game while grabbing 12.4 rebounds per game. As impressive as those numbers were, that was considered a “down season” for Howard as he faced lots of criticism from media and fans about not being “Laker Material”. The Rockets and Howard both need to make sure he is 100% healthy before the season starts and that he is ready for the long haul. Also, Kevin Mchale and staff need to make sure that they keep an eye on how many minutes Howard plays per game (which is where Omer Asik comes to hand). The Rockets have a haunted history of the words “Micro-Fracture” and “Stress Fracture”, and I’m sure all the fans want to make sure that Harden and Howard are here to stay healthy, and be able to compete at a high level for the next decade to come. If the Rockets can avoid the injury bug, and play to their potential, the southwest division is their’s for the taking.
Although Jeremy Lin, Chandler Parsons, and James Harden have all been working out together and trying to get Dwight Howard used to the system, things can change when it’s game time. Will everything click right away? Or will it be a struggle and the team implodes on itself? Parsons was the number one recruiter for Dwight this season, and Omer Asik requested a trade after Howard decided to sign with the Rockets. While Harden and Howard have both came out and said that they want Asik to be a part of the team, we still do not know about Asik’s status after coming over from the Chicago Bulls in the 2012-2013 season to be the starting center for the Rockets. Not only did he play at an exceptional level, he stepped his game up even more in the playoffs against Oklahoma City helping the Rockets push the Thunder to 6 games in the first round. While general manager Daryl Morey has said that Asik is not available, teams will be watching closely to see how this season pans out and to see how the Rockets team holds up on and off the court.
3) Slow Start
Teams that have been together for years and know how to play with one another will have an upper hand on the Rockets. The San Antonio Spurs and the Memphis Grizzlies are teams that come to mind when it comes to slowing down the Rockets. Those teams have played together for years, not to mention both teams played each other in the Western Conference Finals last season (the Spurs winning 4-0). A slow start can put the Rockets in a hole that they do not want to be in, and may be hard to get out of in the tough Western Conference. With expectations of grasping as high as the number one seed in the west next season, the Rockets can not afford a slow start. It will not be easy capturing the Southwest Division, seeing as most of the teams in the division got better. The Dallas Mavericks acquired Monta Ellis, who averaged 19.2 points per game to go along with 6 assists per game. The New Orleans Pelicans, who besides the Rockets have probably been the busiest team in the southwest division, pulled off a sign and trade by shipping Robin Lopez to Portland, Greivis Vásquez to Sacramento and brought in Tyreke Evans, who averaged 15.2 points per game to go along with 3.5 assists per game. They also made a big move in the off-season by making a deal with the Philadelphia 76ers, trading their 1st round pick Nerlens Noel (who many thought was the best pick available in the draft) for All-Star Jrue Holliday, who averaged 17.7 points and 8 assists last season.