The Rockets have not been quite as solid on defense this season as in past seasons, but are still in upper realms of the league. Their defense keeps them in every game and they always have a chance to win down the stretch. Houston has two defensive studs in Ron Artest and Shane Battier, and Dikembe Mutumbo puts fear into the minds of smaller guards trying to score around the basket.
The Rockets have not made it past the first round since 1997. Yao Ming has been involved in many of those failed playoff runs, along with Tracy McGrady. Now, Yao has an opportunity to show people how much he wants it without McGrady. Although McGrady will be missed, Ron Artest and Shane Battier provide sturdy veteran leadership to the rest of the team.
The addition of Ron Artest gives the Rockets an extremely physical body to pound against Kobe and LeBron. He is as strong and tough as they come. Also the acquisition of Kyle Lowry could be big. Lowry is a physical guard who intentionally draws contact in the lane and can really create foul trouble for opponents' big men.
The trade that got rid of Rafer Alston really has helped the Rockets. The addition by subtraction concept was demonstrated when Aaron Brooks was inserted into the lineup. Brooks might just be the fastest player in the league and with him as the starting point guard, the Rockets can run with other teams now. They will also still have their great set offense to rely on as well, through Yao Ming. They have four or five legitimate three-point threats in Battier, Brooks, Artest, or Von Wafer. These players can complement the power game of Scola and Yao.
Everybody is talking about how deep the Lakers and Cavs are, but what about the Rockets? The Rockets are ten deep and their second unit might be more athletic than their first unit. Kyle Lowry, Von Wafer, and Carl Landry provide explosive athletic ability to go with the lock-down defenders of Mutumbo and Chuck Hayes. Think about this: Yao Ming played half of the third quarter against the Blazers on Saturday and none of the fourth quarter. The Rockets won by 27 points.
I think the Rockets will beat the Lakers in seven games, but ultimately lose to the Cavs in seven in the finals.