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NBA Blogger Previews: Your Houston Rockets

(Originally written a couple weeks ago by Lee/UofTOrange)

Today is the Southwest Division bloggers entry day, and we were honored to represent the Houston Rockets.

Team Name:
THE Houston Rockets
Last Years Record: 55-27
Key Losses: Bobby Jackson and maybe Dikembe Mutombo
Key Additions: Ron "No Lay-ups, Crazy Pills, Ron Ron" Artest

1. What significant moves were made during the off-season?
Steve Novak leaving this team will come back to haunt it. I have no idea how Daryl Morey can sleep at night knowing that he traded away the next Reggie Miller. Novak could average 30 in this league, you know, if he was always left open, didn’t have to create his own shot and was allowed to not play defense. It’s unfathomable to me that we could let that kind of player go for nothing but a pick swap!

I guess Ron Artest coming to the Rockets for Bobby Jackson, a rookie and a sure thing NBA first round bust next year is big news, but I just don’t see it. That guy can’t even shoot 60% or play defense for 49 minutes on average a game. Wait, just a second, my sources are telling me that he actually is pretty good.

The Artest trade will go down as one of the biggest steals in NBA history if you ask me, and since you did, that’s my stance. Even if Greene turns out to be a solid player, we got a top 30 player for a rookie, an old PG and a future very late round pick (I can only assume). That’s a steal as long as Ron Ron can play more like No Lay-ups and less like Crazy Pills. I believe he can. I don’t think anyone who has paid attention to the man thinks he is stupid, and this is a contract year. He will be playing to stay on the best team he’s ever been a part of. That’s right; it’s a step above the Pacers team that was ruined after the brawl. There are two players on this team better than anyone on that Pacers team, and Ron was the second best player on that team behind O’Neal. Plus, I love crazy on my team, just one guy can be crazy, but I really think you need that one guy.

2. What are the team's biggest strengths?

Defense – JVG installed a philosophy with this team and the greatest coaching move Rick Adelman could have made was to reinforce that philosophy. There are a couple of teams equal to the Rockets on the defensive end, but none of them are better, that’s not conjecture, that’s a fact. When you go down the lane, you won’t enjoy it, when you shoot a 3 pointer, someone will be in your face, and when you try to take your man one on one, someone will come around with the help defense. It’s the best part of our game, and it’s generally infallible no matter how poorly we play on the offensive end in a given game. We rarely get outplayed by a good offense and that is a testament to what JVG put in and to how good a coach Adelman is to not try and fix what wasn’t broken.

Coaching – I truly believe Rick Adelman is a fantastic coach. That’s not to say that JVG wasn’t, I still have a mad man crush on that guy’s basketball knowledge. But JVG getting a raw deal doesn’t change the fact that Adelman was a fantastic hire, that the offense got better throughout the year and was rolling when Yao went down, and that his staff is solid to very good.

Ugly Free Throws – No team in the league can boast a worse free throw shooter than Chuck Hayes or a center that shoots their technicals like Yao Ming. That means that 1. There are a lot of bad free throw shooters on the team and 2. Yao is one of the best centers at the stripe of all time. Watching Chuck shoot free throws is one of the guiltiest pleasures around, you know, provided it’s in a blow-out and the Rockets don’t actually need them to go in the basket.

3. What are the team's biggest weaknesses?

Offensive Consistency – Last year, with players in and out of the lineup, the Rockets could not keep things straight on the offensive end. If Rafer was having his 1 good game out of every 4 games, then the Rockets were likely to win. If Yao was playing and the others around him fed him the ball, we were likely to win. If Tracy was playing defense and turning it into transition points or magically hitting the 20 foot jumper, we were likely to win. All of those things were hit or miss though, and that’s what needs to change. I think that this will be fixed with the arrival of Artest, but it does mean that Bobby Jackson can’t come in to calm the team down when Rafer is not playing well. In all, the team’s consistency on offense will hinge on two things: 1. Can Rafer play as well as he did last year and improve on his decision making and 2. Can Ron Artest keep it together and fill in the gaps on offense. I think 2 is almost a certainty and the jury is out on 1. I really want good things from Rafer, but fool me once…

Injuries – It is very clear that Yao going down for the season ruined any chance of the Rockets getting out of the first round. That didn’t stop them from trying and putting up a fight, but it was not one they could win. McGrady goes down every year for some time and even Alston hurt the team by being out with an ankle injury in the playoffs. If the Rockets are injury free for the entire year, I will personally guarantee a championship. The issue at hand is that it is very unlikely for that to be true. I am hoping that they can limit them, that Yao’s injuries are just flukes and that McGrady can continue to play through the ailments that he has. The addition of Artest means that if TMac goes down then the Rockets can be okay for short stretches, and it means the same thing for Battier. With Shane already fighting an injury before the season has even started, Artest is going to need to be counted on to step in right away. A full preseason slate should help with that. I also think that clears the argument about which one of them will start.

4. What are the goals for this team?

Win the Championship this year; it can not be any simpler. Artest only has this year left on his contract and there are no guarantees after that about the team. Tracy isn’t getting younger and only has a few years left on his contract and Yao is a ticking time bomb of injuries. A championship this year is the goal and the team should accept nothing less.

Predicted Record: 63-19 1st place in the West, NBA Champions

NBA Final Standings:
The East: Playoff Teams

1. Celtics (win Atlantic) - Injuries will happen this year, they will figure them out
2. Magic (win Southeast) - Will be really good
3. Lebrons (win Central) - I just can't call them the Cavaliers, the only good player they have is Lebron
4. Pistons - Old, not getting much younger
5. 76ers - Got better with Brand, didn't lose anything
6. Raptors - Losing TJ Ford, adding the walking wounded in O’Neal moves them down for me
7. Heat - DWade will make them a 3 game above .500 team
8. Bulls - I think they play better this year

The West: Playoff Teams (Top 3 teams have a shot at 60+ wins)

1. Rockets (win Southwest) - We would have been #1 last year without Yao going down
2. Hornets - Exceptionally good and getting better. They have my two favorite non-Rockets in West and CP3
3. Lakers (win Pacific) - Good, will struggle a bit putting Bynum in but will be very good.
4. Jazz (win Northwest) - I hate you, I hate you so very much Utah Jazz, but you are pretty solid

5. Spurs - They have 2 more years left before they have to turn the team over to Parker, I can't decide if that is a good thing.
6. Mavs - I could see them winning anywhere from 44-55, they are a wildcard. It depends a lot on how Josh Howard handles this offseason. I think Dirkstatic will still be awesome though.
7. Suns - Old, very old, but have Amare for the future. Hill won't be as good and Shaq will have a big downturn. They'll make the playoffs because of Nash.
8. Trailblazers


East Semifinals: Boston, Orlando, Lebrons, Philly

East Finals: Boston, Orlando

West Semifinals: Houston, NO, LA, Utah - Advance

West Finals: Houston and NO

NBA Finals: Houston v Orlando

Champion: Houston - Yao shows DHo why he's the best center in the league