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.

So how pumped are you about this Rockets' season so far? Are you willing to fake it a little? Their 5-3 start is OK, but nothing to fire up the masses.

The Rockets are going to be very good again this season. Somehow that's probably part of the problem with the relative apathy for this team. Other than within the Rockets organization, or among the most loyal and hopeful fans, the Rockets are not considered a first tier NBA championship contender.

Russell Westbrook makes them a more compelling game to game watch. Other than that (and The Brodie is a big that), the Rockets have a bit of same old same old feel to them. Their same old same old isn't bad. It's quite good. James Harden is going to keep putting up astounding stats. The Rockets are going to keep firing up three point shots like no other. They will win plenty of games. But does it excite you on a regular basis? Even with the Warriors out of the way this season, until or unless the Rockets are in at least the Western Conference Final, they're not going to be vigorously embraced as a title threat. That's a tough standard. But it's where the Rockets are.

Astros making off-season news

It's still kind of letdown mode from the Astros losing the last two games of the World Series. Plus the off season Hot Stove of transactions isn't even warming yet, as we wait to see where Gerrit Cole signs to pitch for the next several years. Among many other moves.

Anyone can understand a father wanting to set up his son going forward. UH basketball Head Coach Kelvin Sampson has done a stupendous job rebuilding the Cougars, so in his new contract was able to have his son Kellen designated as "head coach in waiting." Jim Crane is the lead owner of the Astros, so we should all grasp his moving son Jared into Astros' business operations, and moving out Reid Ryan in the process. I now note that I don't know Reid really at all on a personal level, and not all that deeply on a professional level. While it's the on field results that by far most shape the image of the franchise, when the Astros were a joke in this city, bringing on the relentlessly upbeat, approachable, and classy son of Nolan as President of Business Operations was a notable step in the Astros' return to relevance. With Reid reassigned, in a non-shocking non-coincidence, Nolan is out as an Astros Special Advisor.

Key stretch for Texans after off week

Allow me a brief semi-screed about the Texans' open week. Most of the sports world refers to it as a "bye" week. Most of the sports world is wrong! A bye is when an individual or team advances in a tournament bracket without having to play. If for the first time in franchise history the Texans finish as one of the top two seeds in the AFC, they will earn a bye week past the Wild Card round directly into the Divisional round of the playoffs. A week during the season when a team has no game scheduled is not a bye week. It's an open week, or an off week, or a week without a game. It's not a bye week! I feel a little better for that, thanks.

As for the Texans, their open week (!) finds them in good position in the AFC South. At 6-3, they'll pick up tackling the defining stretch of their regular season schedule. Deshaun Watson gives them hope in any game anywhere, but it's unlikely the Texans win two road playoff games to get to the Super Bowl. They need the playoff bye which means one home win from a spot in AFC Championship game. There are two division leaders ahead of the Texans in the AFC. The Ravens are 6-2, the Patriots are 7-1. The Texans play both within their next three games: at Baltimore, home vs New England. Those challenges are sandwiched around a home game with the Colts. Indy is behind the Texans at 5-3 (before the Colts play the dismal Dolphins Sunday) but with a win at NRG Stadium would own the AFC South tiebreaker. With a loss in Baltimore they're probably Texans Toast with regard to securing a bye. With a win they'd have a real shot at bit, winning tiebreakers over both the Ravens and the Chiefs.

SEC showdown

College football's latest regular season game of the year has LSU at Alabama Saturday afternoon. The Crimson Tide has rolled the Tigers in their last eight meetings. Two of the last three years LSU didn't even score.This season's Alabama's defense isn't up to usual elite Nick Saban unit standards, LSU has an explosive modern up-tempo attack for the first time, well, ever. With a strong showing and a win Tiger quarterback Joe Burrow can about cinch up the Heisman Trophy. LSU's only Heisman winner did it 60 years ago, Billy Cannon in 1959. Entirely gratuitous follow up fact!: Syracuse won the National Championship that season, beating Texas in the Cotton Bowl.

Buzzer Beaters

1. I'll take LSU +6 ½ 2. Toronto or Seattle Sunday? MLS Cup matchup! 3. Best rarely used synonyms for steal: Bronze-snaffle Silver-purloin Gold-filch





=

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome