Four notable games outside of the nationally televised games are the following:
Nov 4 at Miami Heat
Nov 8 vs Golden State Warriors
Nov 16 at OKC Thunder (NBA TV)
Nov 28 vs. L.A. Clippers (NBA TV)
The Miami Heat are going to be a different team without LeBron James, but they are by no means a pushover. Chris Bosh is going to give Terrance Jones headaches, and James Harden can’t fall asleep while covering Dwyane Wade. It works out well for the Heat that its best two offensive players are both lining up against the Rockets’ weaker defenders. While Dwight Howard should have a big game in the paint, Chris Andersen’s impact at center can’t be underestimated. He’s still a strong capable defender, though lacking the explosive leaping ability he had in his prime with the Denver Nuggets. It’s likely that the Heat win this game, and it could be a five to eight point victory.
The Golden State Warriors will come to Houston on Nov 8 and are second-tier type contenders once again. Stephen Curry is one of the best shooters the NBA has ever seen, and Klay Thompson remains a Warrior after the Cavaliers turned down the Warriors’ offer featuring Thompson and David Lee. Thompson and Curry, known as the “Splash Brothers,” will push the Rockets’ backcourt. Curry has had turnover issues against Patrick Beverley, though, and it will do the Rockets well to keep the pace of the game fast. It’s not that the Warriors don’t have the horses to run; they do; it’s that it could be left to Harden to get hot and the Rockets to keep turnovers down. That’s a workable plan. Houston wins this one, but likely by three points or less.
The Oklahoma City Thunder are still a superior team to the Rockets, and Kevin Durant plays well against everyone, because no small forwards can contest his jumper. Serge Ibaka can’t be underestimated, either, as that will pull Terrance Jones out further on the court because Ibaka has a nice mid-range jumper. There was a time when Kendrick Perkins frustrated Dwight Howard, but it would be surprising to see that still the case. Russell Westbrook is too big and strong for Beverley, but Bev’s heart will keep the matchup closer than it would be otherwise. Even so, it’s a lot to expect the Rockets to be prepared for this game after facing Minnesota and Philly in the games prior. It has all the makings of a letdown, and the Thunder could blow the Rockets out in this one.
The L.A. Clippers are a tough matchup, too. Blake Griffin is one of the many 4-men that will give the Rockets headaches. His offensive game and ball handing abilities are a lot more advanced than most credit him for, and while Jones is a good athlete, Griffin is a great one. Chris Paul never loses his dribble, is decisive, and won’t be forced into miscues just by Beverley’s pesky defense. The Clips also made it out of the first round by defeating the Golden State Warriors four games to three. The Clips also pushed the Thunder to six games. Both are tasks the Rockets likely could not have pulled off.
With those three important games, the Rockets have a 1-3 outcome against an Eastern Conference Contender and three Western Conference playoff teams.
The Rockets have a good shot at beginning the season 4-0 with games against Lakers, Jazz, Celtics and 76ers. After that, the Rockets pay for it by facing three consecutive playoff teams. The month won’t be easy.
Predicted Finish Oct-Nov: 11-7