The Houston Rockets have had several ups and downs since last season ended. Especially in the expectations department.
After finishing 34-32 and narrowly missing the playoffs in last year's lockout-shortened season, there wasn't a lot to get excited about heading into this season.
The acquisition of Jeremy Lin immediately changed all of that. After his successful run with the New York Knicks, expectations rose dramatically the moment he became a Rocket.
When Houston traded for James Harden, expectations ascended even higher. So what can really be expected of them this season?
Youth defines this team—they are still learning and growing and taking their lumps together. We must also consider the effects of unfortunate passing of young Sasha McHale and the effects that has had on the family, players and the entire Rockets organization.
Before the season started I thought Houston would go 44-38 and battle to sneak into a lower playoff seed.
At 9-8 Houston is currently sixth in the Western Conference. There are five teams that are within one game of them. This logjam will exist all season long.
The Short Term
Short-term success would mean that the Rockets at some point go on a nice winning streak, create some separation from all of those teams pursuing them and get in the playoffs as a lower seed. If they are able to hang on to the sixth seed and possibly improve on it, then that would just be an added bonus.
It's way to early for this, but let's throw it out there anyway. If the playoffs started today, Houston would face the San Antonio Spurs. If they fall to the eighth seed, they would draw the Memphis Grizzlies.
Finishing December on a good note should be the current goal of the team. They face the Spurs three times this month as well as the New York Knicks on the road as Jeremy Lin will return to Madison Square Garden for the first time.
That's just a small sample of what's ahead—and looking ahead is something they as a young team can't afford to do.
The Long Term
When you look at the Rockets and what they are capable of down the line, the future is pretty bright. Offensively they average 103.7 points a game, trailing only the Oklahoma City Thunder in scoring.
They have accomplished this in just the first month and change of the season. Wait until they have played together and know each other like the young but experienced Thunder do. The sky will be the limit.
Jeremy Lin, James Harden, Omer Asik and Chandler Parsons are growing into a very nice nucleus to build around. Maybe the Rockets bring in another big-time free agent at some point, maybe they don't.
Either way, Houston is going to be in the mix for quite some time. In the mix as in soon they will get to the playoffs and contend and make noise once they get there.
They play in a big market and the players that are already there have the potential to continue to develop into big-time players themselves. The Rockets have the youth part covered very well. Once they get the experience part down, look out.
All stats are accurate as of December 7, 2012.