Championship Aspirations

5 reasons why the Houston Rockets can win the NBA Title

Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images


The drama the NBA off season brings us every year leads fans to newfound optimism; some with a demented expectation because of fandom, others justified.

When the final buzzer sounded crowning the Toronto Raptors the NBA Champions, a few players such as Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving were now being painted to different teams, while others like Kawhi Leonard had the keys to how things would play out in free agency and where the dominoes would fall.

After the blocks fell and the dust settled, the Houston Rockets jumped in the chaos and made a move that will change the direction of this franchise for the foreseeable future. The Rocket's acquisition of Russell Westbrook while being able to unload an aging Chris Paul and keeping most of their roster intact puts Daryl Morey's experiment as a top 5 contender.
Now we look for answers that can only be found once we see this team hits the court, Thursday brings us the first opportunity to take that look.


Here are 5 Reasons why the Houston Rockets can win the NBA Title.

1) The Obvious- Russell Westbrook joining the team

  • MVP- Check
  • 8x time All-Star-Check
  • 2x All-Star Game MVP-Check
  • 8x All-NBA selection-Check
  • 2× NBA scoring champion-Check
  • 2x NBA assists leader-Check

When you add a player with this type of resume, it automatically leads you to believe the roster is improved. The mystery now remains how can coach Mike D'Antoni make the puzzle fit. The familiarity of the two superstars going back to growing up and then playing at OKC and with team USA could lead to on-court success. The roster undoubtedly improved on paper, now housing two bonafide talents that finished top 10 in MVP voting in each of the past five seasons, and both placed in the top-five in the same season three times over that span.

2) Trust

Over the years rumors have come out about other NBA players aspiring to play with James Harden and whether it was becoming a problem with his style of play. Bringing in someone Harden has a close relationship with and someone the beard pressed for will do wonders for the locker room this season. We think back at the rumors of a feud between Chris Paul and James Harden during the playoffs last year, is that something you want to worry about coming into this season? Now I use the word rumor, because thats all it was, nothing was ever confirmed, but where there is smoke, there is fire.


Trust is essential here as we saw players like Austin Rivers and Clint Capela come out and back the Rockets statements saying things weren't true and how much they trust in Harden's game and style of play. Was the quarrel between Paul and Harden over the way the superstar played in closing quarters and in big moments in playoff games? That's something Harden has been noted for time after time. We all know that even the best of friends can argue, so how will this all play out in late-game situations or when the team struggles? The question going into this season is can Westbrook bring the best out of Harden in situations where some say he's checked out in the past.

3) Change of Pace

Last season the Rockets finished the regular season 27th in pace (98.39). During the playoffs, they were 10th (97.26) playing at an even slower pace. Rostering two players like Paul and Harden that slow the game down can sometimes work against you in situations or matchups where you need to speed up the game. Russell Westbrook plays a completely different game and when on the court the Thunder played at a pace of 104.34.

In Westbrook's 2016-17 MVP season, the Thunder were fifth in pace leading him to his career-high in PPG at 31.6. The downfall is it also was his career-high in turnovers per game at 5.4. The following season his points dipped to 25.4 PPG, as did the Thunder's pace, finishing 20th. Last season Westbrook's team once again moved into the top 10 in pace (9th) but he had his lowest points per game output since 2013-2014.

I see a change of pace as a good thing that the Rockets will perfect as the season progresses. At times last season the offense seemed stagnant, this will give Houston the ability to attack in a different fashion. Over the years we've seen plenty of Westbrook's ability to rebound turn and get up court resulting in fast break points and open shots.

4) Experience

When looking at this Rockets team you see a ton of experience and that will be focal to keeping this team improving.


Russell Westbrook-12th season

Eric Gordon-12th season

James Harden-11th season

PJ Tucker-9th season

Austin Rivers-8th Season

Clint Capela-6th season

Honorable mention- Nene-18th (although now on the court much, mentally in a locker room he helps not to mention the practice he gives the younger guys)


Notably, Houston went out and added a few more players who will add to the team's overall experience

Tyson Chandler-19th season

Thabo Sefolosha-14th season

Ryan Anderson-12th season (He's back)

Ben McLemore-7th season


Houston enters the season with the most experience with an average of 8.9 years. There is one issue with this as it also makes the Rockets the oldest team in the NBA with an average age of 29.7. The time is now for a team with a small window to experiment.

5) A New NBA era

We all know how much the Warriors have dominated the league the last couple of seasons, even without winning the Championship last year. But the powerhouse that was built in Golden State looks to be vulnerable with the departure of key players and a Klay Thompson injury that will put the weight on the shoulders of Steph Curry. Can he carry it? He has before but the shift of powers in the Western Conference points me to believe this will be a down season for the Warriors with Curry being less than 100% healthy over the past few seasons. One injury that causes Curry to miss extended time would plummet the Warriors season. Head Coach Steve Kerr said publicly this week that he didn't think Klay Thompson would be back this season, with that said if the team is struggling why would they risk it.


According to Vegas here are the top 5 favorites

Los Angeles Clippers 7/2

Los Angeles Lakers 4/1

Milwaukee Bucks 6-1

Philadelphia 76ers 8/1

Houston Rockets 8/1


The interesting thing here is how will these top teams deal with load management becoming somewhat of a ritual in the NBA?We know the Lakers will use it plenty with LeBron James, how many games with managing time and injuries will Anthony Davis be good for?In the last 3 years, Davis and James have missed a combined 75 games, and yes last season was somewhat of an outlier as the future of both players and their franchises had a lot to do with the games played but Davis has never played an 82 game season in his previous 7 years. LeBron had his eyes already set on this season, risking further injuries would have been pointless.

Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are another tandem the are known to miss games and as no surprise, we enter the season with George recovering from an injury. Last year Leonard only played 60 games and I look for the load management to continue as that was a big factor in him signing with LA.

Joel Embiid another Superstar on a top 5 contender that misses extended amounts of time often and is used with precaution at times during the season. In his first three seasons, Embiid has played 31, 63 and 64 games. That's not something that can be relied upon.

Now let's look at the Houston duo

Harden's games played last 4 seasons

82

81

72

78

Westbrook

80

81

80

73

Being on the court together will be essential in getting in-game adjustments right and will be crucial for seeding. Of the Western Conference favorites, I look for the Rockets to get the most on-court time out of their star players. Seeding and getting home court in an extremely competitive conference will be key for Houston's title aspirations.

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The Astros suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Yankees Thursday. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

After an impressive two-game sweep of the NL-best Mets at home earlier in the week, the Astros took to the road to begin a four-game series with the league-best Yankees on Thursday night. To little surprise, the series started with a bang (no, not a trash can bang) in more ways than one, confirming that this series should be a must-watch this weekend.

New York's comeback proves no lead will be safe

Right from the get-go, the loud Yankee Stadium faithful had their chance to rain boos down on Jose Altuve before showing some pleasure as he led off the series by being hit by a pitch. They were quickly, though only temporarily, quieted as Altuve would come in to score two batters later on a three-run blast by Alex Bregman.

Three-run homers seemed to be a theme, as New York would get one of their own to tie the game off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton to tie the game, then Yordan Alvarez continued his dominant June by pushing the Astros back in front by three with another three-run bomb in the third, making it 6-3. That lead held through to the bottom of the ninth, where instead of holding it, Ryan Pressly issued two walks to set up the fourth homer of the game to tie things again before Aaron Judge would get a walk-off single to complete the impressive comeback.

Not only will we get to sit back and watch the slug-fest between Yordan and Judge this weekend, but it looks like with Alex Bregman swinging well again to round out the top of Houston's order, the Astros may be getting closer to their full power. So far in June, these two teams sit third and fourth in on-base percentage, with the Astros at .351 and the Yankees right behind at .350. That means we should continue to see scoring opportunities on both sides that can tilt momentum one way or the other as these lineups try to battle against the opposing pitcher.

How will the aces fare

Verlander vs. Judge, and Cole vs. Alvarez, need I say more? Although we won't see Justin Verlander go up against Gerrit Cole in the same game in this series (they should go head to head next Thursday, however), they will pitch on back-to-back days, with Houston's ace going Friday night and New York's on Saturday afternoon. Verlander is coming off his worst start of the year, a three and two-thirds inning outing where the White Sox put up seven runs, four earned, against him and knocked him out early to give him his third loss and increased his ERA from 1.94 to 2.30.

The last time he faced the Yankees was in the Bronx in the 2019 playoffs, in ALCS Game 5, where he went seven frames while allowing four runs, all on two homers in the first inning, which is all New York needed to grab the 4-1 victory to make it a 3-2 Houston lead in the series, which the Astros would go on to clinch in Game 6. So, with the double dose of bad taste in his mouth, it will be interesting to see if he can use that as the fuel to get back to the phenomenal form he's had this year or if the Yankees try to jump on him early like they did nearly three years ago.

Cole, meanwhile, is fresh off of two quality starts in a row against the Rays, where he allowed just one run on six hits with nineteen strikeouts over 13.1 innings of work. He's had his share of strife this season, though, including a seven-run shelling by the Twins earlier this month, along with a start in April where he couldn't make it through two innings against the Tigers. He's had success against his former club, most notably a complete-game shutout in Houston last July with twelve K's and holding the Astros to just three hits.

If the series opener was any indication, we are in for the treat of a playoff-caliber matchup, if not a potential ALCS preview that we may see in October. The Yankees showed why they have the best record and are the hottest team in baseball on Thursday night, but the Astros were only a good outing from their closer away from having a relatively lopsided win. The rivalry is real; the competition is close, and we get to enjoy the show.

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