With the 2018-19 NBA season quickly approaching, we're rolling out 30 Teams in 30 Days. Between now and opening night, we're dedicating one day to each team in the league. We began to look at the Southwest Division over the weekend with the New Orleans Pelicans and Memphis Grizzlies and covered the Dallas Mavericks yesterday. Today, we're analyzing the division's best team a season ago, the Houston Rockets.
2017-18 season record
65-17 (first in the Western Conference)
Projected 2018-19 season record
54.5 (second in the Western Conference)
• Carmelo Anthony (free agency)
• Michael Carter-Williams (free agency)
• Marquese Chriss (trade)
• James Ennis (free agency)
• Brandon Knight (trade)
• Ryan Anderson (trade)
• Trevor Ariza (free agency)
• Luc Mbah a Moute (free agency)
3 key storylines
Chris Paul's Health
Despite Paul missing 24 games last season with an injury to his adductor, the Rockets found a way to finish first in the West with 65 wins. Houston was 50-8 with CP3 and 15-9 without him. He competed in 15 of 17 postseason games, most notably missing Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals.
Whether or not the Rockets would have advanced to and won the NBA Finals had Paul played remains unknown, but what we do know is that a healthy Chris Paul gives the Rockets their greatest chance of making it out of the West and competing for the third NBA Championship in franchise history.
Carmelo Anthony's Consistency
Although his one year in Oklahoma City may not have turned out the way he wanted, Houston seems to be a better fit for the veteran scorer. While he shot the lowest field goal percentage of his career last season (40.4), he converted 37.3 percent of his catch-and-shoot threes and 36.3 percent of his open three-point attempts.
On a team that attempts the most threes in the league, Melo should be able to get a lot of open perimeter looks on drive-and-kicks from James Harden and CP3. If he is consistent offensively when he is on the floor, he could be the piece the Rockets were missing to reach The Finals.
Replacing Ariza and Mbah a Moute
In an effort to replace two of their best wing defenders last season, the Rockets signed forward James Ennis to fill the void. Ennis stands in at a solid 6'8 and 210 pounds, which is nearly the same dimensions of the two wings he is replacing. He can defend at a high level and will be called upon frequently to help wear down opposing forwards.
If Ennis can replace the defensive production and Melo is able to replace the offensive production Houston lost, the team should not miss a beat. It is equally as important that P.J. Tucker can put together another stellar season as he did a year ago.
5 games to watch
Saturday, October 20 at Los Angeles Lakers
On the first Saturday night of the NBA season, the Rockets take on LeBron James in his first regular season home game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. You can imagine this will be the start of one of the best Western Conference rivalries this season.
Thursday, November 8 at Oklahoma City Thunder
This marks Carmelo Anthony's first return to Oklahoma City. Two of the West's best teams will go head to head as the league's past two MVPs will collide in James Harden and Russell Westbrook.
Thursday, November 15 vs. Golden State Warriors
The first time these two teams have seen each other since Game 7 of last year's Western Conference Finals. Every contest between the Rockets and Warriors is must-see TV, and their first matchup of the season will be nothing short of that.
Sunday, March 3 at Boston Celtics
After losing to the Celtics by one in Boston a year ago on two late offensive foul calls on James Harden, the Rockets responded by defeating the C's in Houston by three. If the Rockets make it to the Finals this year, this just might be the team they have to defeat to win the NBA Championship.
Wednesday, March 13 vs. Golden State Warriors
This is the last of four games between the Rockets and the Warriors. It's the last chance for Houston to show the world that they, once again, are ready to compete with Golden State should these teams see one another in the playoffs.
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