Tuesday marks the beginning of a long journey for the Houston Rockets.
Last year, the Rockets finished the regular season with 42-40 record.
Although the Rockets set an NBA record for best record by a team with no All Stars, they finished third in the Southwest, missing their chances at the playoffs.
As we enter a new season with old and new members, here are a handful of things to expect from the Rockets as they prepare to face the Los Angeles Lakers in their season opener.
This one is obvious since there are only so many people who are anxious to see the seven-time All-Star center return to the court after spending time away for injuries to his left foot.
His minutes will be limited—as the Rockets already installed a backup in Brad Miller—since it’s going to take time for him to get back in the groove, both physically and mentally.
All injury talk aside, Yao’s initial years were impressive in the progress department.
Yao finished his rookie season averaging 13.5 points per game and 8.2 rebounds per game, and was second in the NBA Rookie of the Year Award voting to Amar'e Stoudemire.
In his second season, Yao averaged career highs in points and rebounds for the season and had a career-high 41 points and seven assists in a triple-overtime win against the Atlanta Hawks in February 2004.
Yao finished the season averaging 17.5 points and 9.0 rebounds a game.
Although they were eliminated in the first round by the Lakers, Yao also averaged 15.0 points and 7.4 rebounds in his first playoff series.
The Rockets have to make significant improvements on the defensive side.
There are many reasons for the team’s slide into the ranks of defensive mediocrity last season after being so dominant on that end for years.
With Yao back, the addition of Brad Miller and Jordan Hill’s continued development, the Rockets’ rim protection should see improvement.
However, it is just as important that Houston’s perimeter defenders do a better job of preventing penetration.
Having a healthy Shane Battier back will help, but Aaron Brooks and Kevin Martin need to hold up their end of the bargain, too. We know both players can light up the scoreboard—now we need to seem them consistently prevent their opponents from doing the same.
Last season, the Rockets pushed the pace pretty much every chance they got—in part due to personnel and philosophy, but also out of necessity.
Without Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady, Houston knew it was going to be hard-pressed to succeed in a grind it out, half-court game. So they ran, played up-tempo and attacked early whenever possible.
So does Yao’s return also signify a return to a more trotting pace? Yao’s limited court time means we will still have a great absence from him, but even when he is Houston’s hope is that he can snatch rebounds and handle passes.
Courtney Lee has been drawing attention in camp with his versatility.
A former member of the Orlando Magic and New Jersey Nets, Lee has shown that he can do his job on the court.
Although his career total points per game from his first two years of experience averages out to 10.3 points, Lee’s average for rebounds per game is 2.9 and his average assists per game is 1.4.
Lottery selection Patrick Patterson has been solid as well, showing off the skills, toughness and intellect that made him such an outstanding player at the University of Kentucky.
With no experience in the NBA, his best performance on the court has come in the preseason game against the New Jersey Nets.
After only 19 minutes of court time, he managed six points, nine rebounds, and three assists.
Ishmael Smith has been a revelation so far, impressing everyone with his eagle eye and ability to get into the lane at will.
A rookie from Wake Forest, Smith has averaged five points and 3.3 assists while averaging 17 minutes during the preseason.
Shane Battier is the oldest player on the roster, as he just turned 32; perhaps past an athlete’s prime years, but certainly plenty of quality seasons still remain in his system.
It’s going to be exciting to see him partner up with former teammates and new ones.
Battier has averaged 4.7 rebounds, 1.9 assists, and 9.8 points per game in his career.
Luis Scola is coming off another summer of starring for the Argentinean national team and looking like the best player on the court on a nearly nightly basis.
With a preseason average of 6.6 rebounds, 2.4 assists, and 17. 8 points, Scola has nearly doubled or met his career averages.
As Aaron Brooks enters his fourth season, he has shown increased comfort and confidence.
Brooks has averaged 19 points, 4.4 assists, and 2.2 rebounds, while averaging 31.2 minutes during the preseason.
His swiftness on the court will aid the team in getting the job done, as well.
Chuck Hayes has made sure to get some spotlight action this season as he got into the best shape of his life.
While looking as dominant as ever on defense and more of a threat offensively, Hayes will get the attention he deserves.
With an average of 8.6 rebounds and 5.6 points, Hayes has already proved during the preseason that he’s ready.
With a preseason record of 4-2 so far and the combination of all expectations on what makes the Houston Rockets stand out this season.
The Rockets will not only have one of their best seasons, but will make it to the playoffs and serve as an obstacle to many teams...so long as their team doesn’t spend more time on the bench due to injuries.