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ESPN predicts the Rockets to finish at .500 and take the eighth seed again

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Not a lot of surprises in the ESPN Western Conference projections. That doesn't mean we agree with them.

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ESPN just released it's Western Conference predictions for the upcoming NBA season, and not much has changed for the Houston Rockets. ESPN has them once again finishing with a .500 record at 41 - 41, once again sneaking into the playoffs with an eighth seed and also once again meeting the Golden State Warriors in the first round of the playoffs. Here's what they had to say about the boys in red:

"We know a bit about how Houston will play. The already 3-oriented offense should get a boost with new coach Mike D'Antoni arriving in town and the additions of Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon, who both averaged 15.0 points and 2.0 three-pointers per game last season in New Orleans. But the departure of Dwight Howard cost Houston a strong interior presence on defense. Our panel expects the Rockets to hover around .500 again."

While I don't expect the Rockets to finish in the top half of the west, I do peg them for better than .500. Where the ESPN panel is mistaken is on Dwight Howard. His departure became addition by subtraction off of last year's squad once his failure to play at his best was revealed publicly. Half of Dwight Howard is no longer better than large portions of the league. He's just not that guy anymore.

The Rockets will be more exciting, more efficient and just plain better this season with personnel that fits the system, more accomplished coaching running the show, and no doubt anywhere who the lead dog is on the Toyota Center hardwood. Expect team chemistry to noticeably improve as well as a result.

If they can stay mostly healthy, I have the Rockets somewhere around the 46-48 win range and a fifth seed out west. Remember, they were only three games back of the fifth seed this past season.

Check out the link above for the rest of ESPN's list. Meanwhile, here's my Western Conference standings projections. Let us know yours in the comments section.

1. Golden State Warriors

2. L.A. Clippers

3. San Antonio Spurs

4. Portland Trail Blazers

5. Houston Rockets

6. Oklahoma City Thunder

7. Utah Jazz

8. Minnesota Timberwolves