Well, we're here. 47 wins.
At the beginning of the year, I predicted that the Rockets would go 47-35 and sneak into the playoffs as a 7 or 8 seed. I thought that the loss of Chandler Parsons might destroy their offensive flow (wrong), that they wouldn't have anyone to create offense off the bench without Jeremy Lin (true until Morey brought in Smith and Brewer), and that the Rockets would sorely miss Asik's defense off the bench (definitely still true).
And if you had told me that Dwight Howard would miss 38 of the team's first 70 games and that Terrence Jones would miss even more than that, I would have guess something into the 30s. And if you had told me that Houston would have to ride for an extended stretch without Beverley, Canaan, Jones, or Howard, I might have put that number even lower.
I knew Ariza would bring more defense than Parsons, but I worried about his shooting. He had shot well in Washington but Contract Year Ariza had burned Morey before. While some of those fears were realized, Ariza has been an overwhelmingly positive addition to the Rockets and weighed against Parsons it seems pretty clear that Morey made the right decision.
I'll admit that I didn't see James Harden making The Leap. We all knew he was good, and I figured that the loss to the Blazers would make him strive to be better, but I wasn't prepared for this.
I didn't see D-Mo becoming a guy that Houston could run the offense through. But he's proven me wrong on that point. I've eaten my crow enough on that subject.
But the one person I underestimated when I shouldn't have was Daryl Morey. I've always had faith in the guy, but as he brought in names like Joey Dorsey, Tarik Black, Jeff Adrien, and Kostas Papanikolaou, I thought he was bracing for a bad season. This team looked like one of those 3 teams that lived in NBA purgatory and received what amounts to the NBA's version of "Best Loser" when they got the 14th pick in the draft for 3 straight years.
What he's done this season by turning bit parts into Brewer and Smith is absolute wizardry. Then again, I should have known. After all, in my Blazers=Death Eaters world, Daryl Morey is Harry Potter.
Tip off is at 7pm CST.
Point Guard: Propeller Plane vs. Norris Cole/Tyreke Evans
Evans is questionable to play tonight. He's killed the Rockets with his ability to drive and his size, so his status is important. With Jrue Holiday out, the Rockets might kinda sorta dodge a bullet here since they won't have Patrick Beverley themselves.
I expect Cole or Evans to get to the rim at will and set up shooters/shots in the paint at will, as the Pelicans have done in the previous two meetings to great success against Houston.
Shooting Guard: James Harden vs. Quincy Pondexter
Harden has struggled in two meetings against the Pelicans. He's averaging 16 points on 36% shooting. Some of that is Davis and Asik, but some of that is also Pondexter and Cunningham making his life difficult on the perimeter.
Harden followed a 50-point game with a dud against P.J. Tucker and the Suns. Now he'll try to follow up a 44-point performance with something a little better.
It won't be easy.
Small Forward: Trevor Ariza vs. Dante Cunningham
In his two matchups against Houston, Cunningham is averaging 14 points on 65% shooting.
In his 54 total games this season, he's averaging 5 points on 44% shooting.
Power Forward: Donatas Motiejunas vs. Anthony Davis
The Rockets have had their matchup problems with the Pelicans, but there's generally ways to game plan around those.
There's no way to game plan around Anthony Davis, Destroyer of Worlds. There's a reason AD is in the MVP discussion despite his team being out of the playoff picture. Texans fans had a similar situation with J.J. Watt. He was the best player and put together perhaps the greatest defensive season of all time, yet he didn't win the MVP award.
Anthony Davis might already be the best player in the NBA, and in two years there won't be a question.
Why oh why do so many great players come into the Southwest Division? Go play in the East! Let's get some of this "parity" bullshit that everyone tells me about.
Center: Dwight Howard vs. Omer Asik
Asik is listed as questionable, but my guess is that he will want to play tonight.
With both of these guys likely limited, it's hard to pick an advantage here.
The Rockets have missed Dwight in the worst way. Everyone and their mothers can see that the interior defense has deteriorated since he went down. It didn't help that Houston's schedule turned into "Look which twin towers you're playing tonight!"
Nevertheless, Houston can't rest on their laurels and just expect Dwight to clean everything up at the rim. The habits they have formed during his absence like gang rebounding needs to stick around. It will make them a better defensive team moving forward.
So, if you're keeping track, here's the full injury report tonight.
Rockets: Patrick Beverley out, Terrence Jones out, Dwight Howard questionable, Kostas Papanikolaou out (is he still alive?)
Pelicans: Ryan Anderson out, Jrue Holiday out, Tyreke Evans questionable, Omer Asik questionable.
Rockets: Joey Dorsey, Josh Smith, Corey Brewer, Pablo Prigioni
Pelicans: Alexis Ajinca, Eric Gordon, Luke Babbitt, Jeff Withey, Jimmer Fredette, possibly Tyreke Evans/Norris Cole
Prediction: Pelicans continue Houston dominance.
Rockets vs Pelicans coverage