Can the Houston Rockets become title contenders again?

James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /
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Houston Rockets
Robert Covington, James Harden of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) /

The Rockets were still a top-10 last season

The Rockets, by almost every available metric, were a top-10 team last year. Their expected win-loss record, based upon point differential, was 8th last season, basketball reference’s simple-rating system ranked them 7th, and their record was 8th best in the league.

Finishing the season as the 8th best team doesn’t get you a trophy or even a friendly first-round match-up but it does mean you’re close to being a serious contender. Remember, the Miami Heat made it to the NBA finals last season with a worse record and a worse simple-rating than the Rockets.

What shouldn’t be forgotten, is that the Rockets were a top-four team in the West with the least amount of continuity in the league. They began the season integrating Russell Westbrook into their offense and after a shaky start jettisoned their starting center, Clint Capela, and brought in Robert Covington to play a style of basketball not yet attempted at the professional level.

No one likes excuses but the Rockets were a team that spent the entire season trying to figure out who they were and by the time they did the season was paused for three-months because of the coronavirus pandemic. Given normal circumstances, the Rockets would have had a real chance of snagging the West’s third seed and staved off a match-up with the Los Angeles Lakers until the Western Conference Finals.

The Rockets weren’t true title contenders last year but they were close enough to pull off what the Miami Heat did, get hot at the right time and catch a real contender sleeping. Unfortunately, Westbrook suffered a quad injury at the worst imaginable time and the Lakers posed the worst imaginable matchup for them.

Next: How good will they be in 2020-21?