Bold Predictions for the Houston Rockets in December of 2013-14 NBA Season
The West has shown that it is far and away superior to the Eastern Conference. Unfortunately for Houston, only four opponents in December play in the East—two of which are top teams. If the Rockets want to make a name for themselves, then beating these tough teams is key.
Houston has built a decent amount of chemistry early this season, and all its new faces seem to be meshing well together. Injuries have already been an issue, though. They will need to get healthy to really have a solid rest of the season.
These bold predictions for December hinge on them getting healthy.
Rack Up a 9-Win Month
Even after dropping their first two games of December, Houston could easily still record a nine-win month.
Their schedule includes two games against the Golden State Warriors, two games against the Sacramento Kings and then games against the Orlando Magic, Portland Trail Blazers, Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers, Detroit Pistons, Dallas Mavericks, San Antonio Spurs, Memphis Grizzlies, Oklahoma City Thunder and New Orleans Pelicans.
Games against the Blazers, Bulls, Pacers, Spurs and Thunder won't be easy, but assuming they can pick up wins against the other teams on the schedule, they will have a nine-win month.
Then again, it's difficult to guarantee wins against lesser teams. With that being the case, look for Houston to drop a game or two against the Warriors or Pelicans. They will substitute two wins against the better teams, though.
A nine-win (or potentially 10-win) month would be a huge confidence booster for this team. Picking up double-digit wins in a month is a great way to separate a team from the pack.
Knock off a Top Squad (or 2)
The Rockets are in a great position this month to knock off at least one of the NBA's top squads. With five games against teams that are considered elite, Houston can make a statement with a few wins.
The Blazers, Spurs and Thunder will give Houston problems because of their familiarity within the conference. Houston has played well in recent memory against these three teams, but history doesn't mean all that much in today's NBA.
Portland is one of the top teams in the entire league, and the Spurs and Thunder are right behind them in the West. Houston actually has the same number of wins (13) as OKC, but the Thunder have three fewer losses (four).
Defeating a Western Conference powerhouse would be huge for the Rockets, but I don't think they'll get that statement win in December. Their two big wins will come against teams in the East.
Go Undefeated Against the Eastern Conference
The Pacers are 17-2, and the Bulls are 8-9. Chicago has struggled out of the gate, but this team is capable of making waves in the playoffs—even without Derrick Rose.
Houston should be able to take care of Chicago while it struggles, but it will be its game against Indiana on December 20 that showcases what Houston is capable of.
In the preseason, Houston took down Indiana in both meetings by a combined score of 19 points. Take the preseason for what it's worth, but we can tell from those games that Houston has the chops to hang with the Pacers. They should be able to bring that confidence with them into the December matchup.
Aside from taking down Chicago and Indiana, the Rockets will roll through Orlando and Detroit—two teams that are currently under .500.
When all is said and done, the Rockets will have swept the Eastern Conference in December.
Dwight Howard Will Average 20 and 15
Dwight Howard is currently averaging 15.0 points and 13.5 rebounds per game in two games this month, but look for those numbers to increase to averages of 20.0 and 15.0. As Howard continues to get comfortable in head coach Kevin McHale's scheme, his numbers will improve.
While Tim Duncan, Serge Ibaka, Joakim Noah, Roy Hibbert and Andre Drummond may give him fits this month, the rest of his schedule is pretty light in terms of impact centers. Sure, DeMarcus Cousins and Kosta Koufos are solid players, but Howard will make light work of them.
Both offensively and defensively, Howard will shine in December. Historically, Howard has averaged 16.8 points and 13.1 rebounds per game in the month over the course of his career, but I predict more from him in his first season in Houston.
He'll be motivated to compete against quality opponents, and the offense may even run through him a bit more with a few lingering injuries along the perimeter. Look for him to shine.
Increased Minutes for Aaron Brooks
Even when Jeremy Lin returns from injury, reserve point guard Aaron Brooks is in for a continued boost in playing time.
Brooks and Patrick Beverley have formed a fine duo in Lin's absence, and Brooks has actually outperformed Beverley while coming off the bench. In his last five games, Brooks is dropping 13.6 points, grabbing 2.2 boards and dishing out 4.6 assists per game.
Those are pretty darn close to starter's numbers in a star-powered offense like Houston's, but Brooks is buried too deep on the depth chart for that to happen. That being said, look for McHale to find ways to get Brooks into the action. It's clear that he can be a playmaker for this offense.
For now, Brooks will get a ton of chances. With Lin out, the door is wide open for him to steal the show. If nothing else, he could be setting himself as a valuable trade chip for the Rockets. There are plenty of teams out there that would love to acquire an impact point guard off the bench like Brooks.
Whether he remains a Rocket or not throughout the season remains to be seen, but know that McHale would be wise to find him minutes while with Houston.