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How the Rockets stack up in a revamped Western Conference

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It’s a much different West this season. Where does that leave the Rockets?

NBA: Playoffs-Golden State Warriors at Houston Rockets Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

There are some out there who feel that the Houston Rockets are in danger of being left behind in the Western Conference. The Los Angeles Lakers made a big play in the offseason for Anthony Davis to pair alongside LeBron James. They’ve since added Demarcus Cousins and Danny Green.

The Los Angeles Clippers just got done with the surprise move of the summer, signing Kawhi Leonard and trading for Paul George to go along with a returning group that should make them one of the league’s top teams.

Even the Utah Jazz got into the act, trading for veteran point guard Mike Conley to add to one of the league’s more interesting and exciting young cores. Make no mistake, everyone is looking to take advantage of the Golden State Warriors’ misfortune now that Kevin Durant has left in free agency and Klay Thompson is expected to miss a major chunk of the year. The wild, wild west is now wide, wide open.

In addition, the Denver Nuggets, Portland Trail Blazers, and San Antonio Spurs all figure to once again have strong teams. So where does this meat grinder leave our Rockets?

So far in free agency, they’ve decided that “run it back” is the best option. Houston re-signed Gerald Green, Austin Rivers and Danuel House Jr., shoring up their backup guard slots and their small forward position. They’ve yet to bring in a new free agent (other than UDFAs from the draft).

That leaves them with a big weakness in depth at forward and at backup center behind Clint Capela. But as tough as the West is tracking to be this year, Houston’s competition all have weaknesses as well.

The Lakers are weak at guard. Despite signing Avery Bradley to a two-year deal, Bradley and Rajon Rondo will manage the point, while Danny Green will likely run at the two. This isn’t a terrible group, but can that trio manage James Harden and Chris Paul in the back court? Green is a fine defender and Rondo and Bradley are capable vets, but the Rockets have a clear edge in the back court over this new super team.

Lebron is a year older, AD has never won a thing, and Boogie is a shell of his former self. All three should be considered major injury concerns. This team will be good, when healthy, but is far from a lock to be a juggernaut.

As for the Clippers, they are long, lean, and lockdown at the forward spots, but for the moment, they lack depth at center and some punch at guard. Sure, they can run small ball with Montrezl Harrell at the five, but they likely start games with Ivica Zubac. I know many of us are down on Capela right now, but he should dominate that matchup.

And of course, again, the Rockets have the edge at guard. Projected starters Patrick Beverley and Landry Shamet vs. Harden and Paul? Advantage H-town. Lou Williams off the bench scares anyone, but he can be exploited on defense.

As for the Jazz, Mike Conley should be the perfect veteran leader for that young and talented group, and his acquisition really bumps them up a notch. They’ve also added Bojan Bogdanovich, and the Jazz are already talking title expectations.

But this team has been waxed by the Rockets 4-1 in consecutive playoffs. This is a much tighter series now with Conley in the fold, but the Rockets are still a really bad matchup for the Jazz. And Bogdanovich will help with this, but can they keep up with the Rockets’ shooting? Or slow down James Harden? They still go as far as Donovan Mitchell takes them, in my opinion.

The Nuggets will be good again, but the Rockets have a mental edge on that team, having dominated them the last two years, and they watched Denver actively avoid that playoff matchup this season. You can’t be scared of the Nuggets until they prove otherwise.

The Blazers have gotten better around the edges, adding Kent Bazemore, Hassan Whiteside, Anthony Tolliver, and Mario Hezonja, but Jusuf Nurkic is out until at least February, so this team will be relying on Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. That duo lead the Blazers to the Western Conference Finals this past season, but their matchup with the Golden State Warriors showed they were a clear level below elite. Have they narrowed that gap? Potentially, but I’m not sure how much.

The Spurs have added Demarre Carroll and Marcus Morris, two solid additions. But the team lacks firepower at the top, with LaMarcus Aldridge getting a bit creaky and DeMar DeRozan still unable to hit a three. They’ll be good, because they have talent, and Pop is still around doing his thing, but can they hang with the big dogs?

And don’t forget about Golden State. They’ve been gutted, but Stephen Curry and Draymond Green are still around and Klay Thompson is expected back during the year. We’re about to see, however, what kind of superstar Steph really is. Can he put this team entirely on his back for the majority of the year?

The Rockets, meanwhile, were on a 60-win pace after adjusting mid-season and bringing in Rivers and House. Conventional wisdom says there’s also something to be said for continuity. Other teams will be adjusting to new pieces. The Rockets should have their chemistry fine-tuned from the get-go.

Even as the free agency pool dwindles, we know Daryl Morey has no qualms making moves mid-season, so the the likelihood is high that the Rockets still have something to add in the personnel department.

Anyway, for what it’s worth (not much) here’s my all too early Western Conference Projection. I also think this gives us some pretty interesting first-round battles.

  1. L.A. Clippers
  2. Houston Rockets
  3. Utah Jazz
  4. Denver Nuggets
  5. Portland Trail Blazers
  6. L.A. Lakers
  7. San Antonio Spurs
  8. Golden State Warriors

Poll

Where do you think the Rockets will finish in the Western Conference?

This poll is closed

  • 24%
    1st
    (308 votes)
  • 16%
    2nd
    (213 votes)
  • 21%
    3rd
    (269 votes)
  • 15%
    4th
    (202 votes)
  • 16%
    5th - 8th
    (210 votes)
  • 5%
    Miss playoffs
    (67 votes)
1269 votes total Vote Now