At this time a year ago, had this blog been around I would have been stating my case why the ’08-’09 Rockets were going to win the NBA Championship. That obviously won’t be happening this year, but what I will do is state why I believe the Rockets will sneak into the playoffs this season, and be a headache for everyone they play this season.
First, in order for the Rockets to miss the playoffs one of the 7 teams that missed the playoffs last season will have to step up , lets take a look at the non playoff teams out West:
Sacramento- Will be lucky to win 25 games
Minnesota- Way too young
Golden State- The Knicks of the Western Conference
Memphis- See Sacramento
LA Clippers- One of those teams that people are talking about as a surprise team, but I’ve head this before with them, and Blake Griffin is already hurt.
Phoenix- They are old, and their best young player (Stoudemire) is always hurt, and never happy. Not exactly a recipe for a playoff team
Oklahoma City- The darlings of the NBA right now. There is no doubt they are talented and have incredible upside. They played well at the end of last season, but lets not forget they won just 23 games. I don’t forsee a 20 game jump in wins just yet.
I wouldn’t be shocked if one of those teams made the playoffs, but that’s it. Therefore the Rockets would need one 2009 playoff team to drop out of the top 8, and that’s an easy pick. New Orleans is a one man team, and that one man can’t carry them anymore. The Hornets will be back in the lottery, and Byron Scott won’t make it past the All Star break.
Last year it took 48 wins to make the playoff in the West, that is an insane amount of wins. The top 6 teams won more than 50, Phoenix, who finished 9th won 46 games. There was a 17 game drop off between the Suns and the 10th team Golden State. I bring this up just to show that the West is very uneven, and the bottom feeders, the teams above, are still not close to the same class as the top 9, which includes the Rockets.
While the Rockets won’t have to win 48 games to make the playoffs, I believe that they will have to get at least 44 wins, and I think they can do that. I love the Artest/Ariza swap for the Rockets. Ariza was the third best player on the Lakers championship team, and I think he has a lot of potential that we haven’t seen. He will also make the Rockets the best perimeter defensive team in the league. Ariza is a better one on one defender than Artest, and of course Shane Battier showed against the Lakers that he is just as good. The Rockets will struggle to defend inside at times, mostly because they don’t have great size, but I really don’t think there are many teams that will be able to take advantage of that weakness.
Here are some other reasons why the Rockets will make the playoffs:
When Rick Adelman took the Rockets job he thought he was going to have a team built around Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming. That has never worked out, but the Rockets have still won over 50 games in both his seasons in Houston. I don’t think there is a better coach in the NBA at getting the most out of what he has to work with. He is at an advantage this season because he has known all offseason that he won’t have Yao or McGrady, so this season he doesn’t have to completely redo his offense midseason. Adelman is great at putting guys in the right spot on the floor and giving them a chance to succeed. He could easily be the most underrated coach in the league over the last 20 years.
Has Morey been wrong about anything since taking over as GM? As good as he has been, its hard to think that the Rockets won’t get solid contributions out of at least 1 of the 3 new additions that came through the draft or free agency- Chase Buddinger, Jermaine Taylor, and David Andersen.
He is going to comeback at some point this season. I don’t know if he will make any positive contributions, but I think he will. He’s in a contract year, and he’s got a lot to prove. The last year has been rough on him, and I think he’ll comeback with a little fire in his belly. Even if he makes no impact this season, you will have to watch out for him come trade deadline time. There are a lot of teams that will be in bad financial shape who have contracts that they want to unload. McGrady could be a valuable trade chip, as most big expiring contracts tend to be.
The Class of '07
Aaron Brooks, Luis Scola, and Carl Landry are all in their third NBA seasons, and all 3 have been very productive in years one and two, especially Brooks, who took over playoff games last season. Its hard not to think that they will continue to get better and more consistent in year 3, especially Brooks. Year 3 tends to be year when point guards come into their own and become a force on a consistent basis, example: Rondo last season, Chris Paul and Deron Williams in ’08.
Aside from the Artest/Ariza swap this is basically the same time Rockets team that split 4 games against the Lakers in the playoffs. They will be better defensively along the perimeter, and while they won’t have a star to run the offense through, the offense will run smoother without Artest to clog things up. For whatever reason the Rockets play better when nothing is expected of them, and the same should happen this season. Their defense will be terrific all season, and that will keep them in games. There is too much character on this team for it for it to fall off so dramatically.