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Vegas Win Total Projection: 51.5 (VegasInsider.com)
The Houston Rockets will look to be a top-2 team in the Western Conference this season. The addition of Ty Lawson, along with James Harden, Dwight Howard, and company makes them in a win-now scenario. Surprising many to get to the western conference finals, they fell short losing to the eventual NBA champion Golden State Warriors. With the Clippers being better, Golden State keeping their roster almost the same, and the Spurs going out and getting key free-agents, it will be difficult for the Rockets to get back to the Western Conference finals. I expect them to be in that conference finals discussion, although in my prediction I have the Clippers facing Golden State in the finals.
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James Harden had an excellent season last season. I fully expect him to come out with a chip on his shoulder and play even better than last season. With the addition of Lawson, he's got another play maker to create chances for the talented Harden. James, who averaged 27.5 points per game last season, did a better job of taking over games and playing ample time. I fully expect to see Harden once again step up and take the leadership role on this Rockets team. With a healthy Dwight Howard, Patrick Beverly, and others, I think they Harden can even average more, I expect to see him close to 29 points, 7 assists, and 6 rebounds per game.
Everyone loves a stretch four, but I don't see this one starting or contributing as much as people think. While everyone puts Montiejunas as the lock at the 4 position for the Rockets, I am not ready to deem him that. I think Terrence Jones will end up propelling himself into a starting role and Montie will take a step back. Donatas played well in stretches last season, but I think he's going to need some time to recover and when he gets back, he'll be looking on the outside looking in. I project that Jones will be this teams' hidden talent and finally show his potential.
I think Terrence Jones will be this teams biggest gem. Everyone knows about Lawson and realistically I could stick him in here, but I think that's an obvious choice. The less obvious, is Jones, coming into his 4th season in the league. He's been in and out, injured, and had a rough go at things since he was drafted in the lottery. A physical specimen, a little undersized for a 4, but nonetheless I see him improved. I had a chance to catch up with Jones at his annual Pro-Am and he seemed physically bigger and stronger. Although he's not the prototypical power forward Houston seemingly needs, he can stretch the floor, and he seemed to have improved on his jump shot, making him a harder player to guard. I think in a contract year, he'll be primed for 10 and 10, potentially 4-5 assists, and a block or two a night.
Daryl Morey is one of the more stat heavy GM's in the league. With his pick-up of Lawson and continually adding depth to this team, I expect them to be a better offense, ranking in the top-5 in the NBA. Their offense is not what needs help though, its their defense. Last season, they ranked 19th in points allowed. While they didn't add any players to bolster their defense this offseason, I believe Dwight Howard and Jones should be healthy to begin the 2015 season, helping them improve on this. I can see them potentially get to 15th in the league in this category as long as the pair stay healthy. As far as wins, I can see this Rockets team be the best regular season team in the league. They are built for the regular season and scoring a ton of points. They have one of the more dominant centers in the league, with a versatile scorer in Harden, you can expect to see them win over the projected 51.5 games this season. I could see them end the regular season as the west's second best behind either the Clippers or Warriors.