Rockets on Pace for a Good Season Despite Setbacks
Before the NBA season began, I got my opportunity to look into the crystal ball and see how the Rockets would fare this year. With the addition of Dwight Howard and a cast of young, talented players, there were plenty of optimists suggesting the team would soar to the top of the Western Conference. Most, however, were cautious, as was I. As good as the team could be, it still had hurdles to overcome and chemistry to build. Plus, they are in the West, where teams that would be in the top three or four in the East are struggling to maintain position to make the playoffs.
Courtesy the Houston Rockets All systems go.
My projected record for them by the end of January was 30-18. The Rockets finished January at 31-17 before winning their first game of February. I'm not going to break my arm patting myself on the back. A lot can happen in the second half of the season, but it does underscore a few things I believed would be a challenge for the team and a couple others no one could see coming.
Before the season, I believed this could be a strength for this team. These young players spent a good chunk of the offseason working out together and becoming friends. In this regard, little has changed. They still seem to genuinely like one another both on and off the court. They have begun to recognize the tendencies of one another. There are fewer and fewer passes being handed to Howard at his waist and more sent up high above the rim, for example. In truth, it will probably take into next year to develop real championship mettle, but as long as this nucleus remains together, plenty of good things can happen.
Learning the Team Game
In my preview of the Rockets, I wrote, "They have to figure out how they're going to play on the floor with one another. The Rockets want to play up-tempo, but it's hard to imagine them leading the league in fast break points yet again with a guy like Howard who can dominate the paint." Unfortunately, they are still a team straddling the fence between their previous run-and-gun offense and a slower, half-court style of play. They can and should eventually have both, but they have just barely learned how and when to throw a good post entry pass. It takes time.
Playing Both Ends of the Floor
With youth comes a love of scoring and tendency towards laziness on the defensive end of the floor. The Rockets are certainly not immune. For all their preaching of how they were mostly concerned with playing defense, they are not the stingy team on that end of the floor coaches have wanted. They struggle most with defending the perimeter. Howard and Terrence Jones have been excellent front court defenders, but they end up in foul trouble too often when guards are broken down by opposing players. This is more about hustle and technique than skill, something they can certainly learn. James Harden must improve in this area if he truly wants to become elite.