Leslie Alexander and Daryl Morey had a quick trigger last year when a season of high expectations began with the basketball equivalent of a fart noise. After three straight, season-opening losses of 20 points, followed by a 4-7 record through 11 games, Kevin McHale was out of the job.
This season might not begin with the blowouts and depressing play of 2015, but that doesn’t mean the record will be much prettier.
The Rockets play eight of their first nine games on the road, and 14 of their first 20 games in hostile environments. For a team that will be working on implementing a new system under Mike D’Antoni, working without Dwight Howard for the first time in three years and integrating Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson and Nene, this is less than ideal.
Last year, the schedule opened with some cupcakes, which made the losses even more stunning. The Rockets were the first team in the league to lose to the Brooklyn Nets (on the heels of a four-game winning streak, no less), lost to the Nuggets by double digits twice, squeaked by the Kings and needed overtime to beat the Magic.
This year, the Rockets open their season in Los Angeles to face the Lakers, which should be a win — just like opening in Denver last year should have been. After that, they play the Mavericks twice in a row, once each in Dallas and H-Town, then hit the road to face the Cavaliers, Knicks, Hawks, Wizards and Spurs before another game against the Spurs at home.
The Rockets should be better than last year, but it’s really easy to foresee a scenario where they’re 3-5 or 2-6 by the time they play their second home game of the year against the Spurs. They could also just as well go 6-2, dropping games to the Cavs and Spurs, but the odds that they sweep the Mavs and three in a row on an East Coast road trip against three possible playoff teams, including a highly motivated Dwight Howard, are pretty low, I’d say.
Just like last season, there will be chances to turn it around, obviously. A road-heavy schedule early in the season means more home games at the end. But Rockets fans know all too well how the dark cloud a sorry start can hang over a team.