The 2013-14 Houston Rockets are expected to be near the top of the Western Conference, winning at least 50 games on their way to a proud playoff run.
Who will be the flotsam of their journey—the teams they destroy with ease in order to inflate their seeding?
Good or bad in their own right, plenty of conference foes present some favorable matchup situations for Houston.
If the Rockets’ season debut is any indication, their presence on the boards is their greatest advantage. In a victory over the Charlotte Bobcats, Dwight Howard and Omer Asik pulled down 40 rebounds (including a monstrous 26 from Howard) to the Bobcats’ team total of 37.
The Dallas Mavericks shouldn’t expect to fare too much better in this department, as they have one of the greatest big-man deficits in their conference. Dirk Nowitzki is still a dead-eye scorer, but his accumulated age and injuries have made him much less of a banger in the post. On deck behind him are Samuel Dalembert and DeJuan Blair.
Howard and Asik won't lose any sleep over them.
As long as the Rockets can get a grip on their early turnover problem, (they gave up the ball 18 times against Charlotte), their rebounding prowess will give them a game-long control of possession that’s unfair against Dallas.
The Rockets should be thankful that they’re facing the Phoenix Suns three times this year, because it means three surefire wins. Rookie Alex Len and second-year man Miles Plumlee join Channing Frye and the injured Emeka Okafor—who was just acquired from Washington and may not see much time this year—as the team’s primary bigs.
These three will all have something in common. They’ll be just as feckless against Howard and Asik as the Mavericks’ men in the paint.
The Suns’ only real chance against Houston is if they lure the Rockets into last year’s open-court tendencies. If they're lucky, Eric Bledsoe—perhaps the greatest pound-for-pound fast-break athlete in the league—will take the game over.
But if Houston keeps things slow enough, victories against Phoenix will be as plentiful as candy in Halloween pillow sacks.
This year’s Utah Jazz will also be pitiful. Like the Suns, they have composed a failing roster in hopes of landing one of the stars of the 2014 NBA draft.
And while they do possess a frontcourt combination capable of challenging Howard and Asik down the road—Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter—it’s clear that the duo is a work in progress.
Plus, the Jazz are starting Richard Jefferson, a castoff whom the Golden State Warriors were elated to get off their roster. He will have the task of guarding either James Harden or Chandler Parsons, and the 33-year-old simply won’t be up to the task.
If Howard has revenge on his mind, he’ll soon be pleased.
The 2013-14 Los Angeles Lakers are, in no better terms, a bad team. Even if Kobe Bryant came back this weekend as his old self, he wouldn’t make the talent and scheming around him any better.
Pau Gasol is still capable of vintage brilliance, but he and a very partial Steve Nash (who should be lucky to play half this season) are steeped in a culture of shoot-first Mike D’Antoni nonsense that’ll make for a season lost in the dregs of the league.
The Rockets should be able to exploit the defenseless, undersized makeup of this team with relative ease. Howard shouldn’t even have to break a sweat to look like the better half of his Hollywood split.