NBA Season Preview: Houston Rockets

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Last season: 42-40. They were average on offense, average on defense and had an average record — which is actually pretty impressive considering they had no stars to carry them. This was a good squad of role players waiting for a leader.

Head Coach: Rick Adelman, who missed the playoffs last season for just the third time as a coach. That’s impressive.

Key Departures: Trevor Ariza, who left as part of the four-team deal that brought Coutney Lee in to Houston. Ariza went from being a cog in the Lakers machine to a key player in the Rockets offense — and with that increased usage on offense came far less efficient — his True Shooting percentage dropped from .544 in Los Angeles to .488 in Houston. Not everyone is suited to be the guy creating the offense — Ariza could do that well on the break but not in the half-court roles Houston had for him.

Key Additions: Yao Ming is back. Limited in minutes, not moving as well as he did before missing a year due to foot surgery (particularly laterally). But he is still a 7’6” guy with touch on the midrange who can defend the rim with insanely long arms. Even 80 percent of Yao makes the Rockets a much better team… if he can just stay healthy.

The Rockets also locked up Luis Scola, who reminded us at the FIBA World Championships that he is dang good and gets overlooked. Other guys in the door are Courtney Lee and Yao’s backup Brad Miller. Houston also drafted Patrick Paterson, who seems to fit their mold.

Best case scenario: Yao Ming stays healthy and as the season moves on plays more and more minutes, becoming more and more his old self. Then by the playoffs everything is clicking and they are serious threat to the Lakers.

For that to happen: It really is all about Yao.

Sure, there are other things that have to happen. Aaron Brooks has to continue as a catalyst for the Rockets inside-out offense and has to continue to play up to his Most Improved Player status. Kevin Martin needs to be the wing scorer and three-point threat this team needs to stretch the floor. Scola and Shane Battier need to continue to do their thing efficiently. Kyle Lowry needs to lead a change-of-pace second unit that runs and puts up points.

Basically — the Rockets need to play like they did last year, but with Yao now as the leader.

On defense the once formidable Rockets took a hit because after Yao this is not a big team and they lacked someone who could protect the rim. Last season the Rockets allowed teams to shoot 62.7 percent at the rim (eighth worst in the league) and get 28.1 shots per game there (sixth worst in the league). Yao has to change that, force teams to shoot from the outside more, miss more when they do get in the lane. That allows guys like Battier to be more dangerous and aggressive out on the wings.

The Rockets need to keep the flow in the offense and work inside out with Yao — who is a fantastic passer, so it should work. Yao also should help the Rockets on the boards, another area they needed to improve last season.

The question is, can Yao do all this now? After a year off for major foot surgery at age 30?

More likely the Rockets will: Be better, but Yao will be a step slow from his old self, and with that the Rockets will be a step behind their ultimate goals. They will end up like a lot of teams in the West, good but not quite good enough to best the Lakers.

And the risk of injury to the Rockets seems higher than a lot of teams. Yao and Martin have very thick doctors files.

But also know this — a healthy Rockets might be the Lakers toughest matchup in the West. A reasonably healthy Yao stymies Bynum, Battier can slow Kobe, the Lakers are susceptible to quick penetrating point guards like Brooks. Remember that two seasons ago the Rockets took the Lakers seven games (the series where Yao injured his foot). If one team in the West can upset a fairly healthy Lakers squad, it might well be a healthy Rockets squad.

Prediction: 48-34, one of the bottom couple seeds in the West. And we may get to see my theory about them matching up well with the Lakers early on.

Kevin Durant on relationship with Draymond Green: ‘Don’t ask me about that again’ (video)

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After their heated argument, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green are on the same page in at least one regard: They won’t answer questions about each other.

At least Green explained himself before shutting down follow-up questions. Durant wouldn’t address it at all. He was terse.

Really healthy situation Golden State has going.

Of course, the Warriors also have a ridiculous amount of talent. That will help them win, feel good about themselves and get past this.

But until Golden State starts winning, this isn’t going away.

Three Things to Know: Warriors won’t escape Draymond Green-Kevin Durant questions by getting throttled by Rockets

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) The Warriors still have problems. Deep-seeded, dynasty-ruining problems? Not sure. But problems, nonetheless.

Draymond Green and Kevin Durant talked with each other. Green explained himself publicly. Durant wouldn’t address it in the slightest.

But a 107-86 loss to the Rockets leaves it difficult to feel good about the star forwards moving on productively from their heated argument.

This could be as simple as Stephen Curry being injured. Even before Green and Durant sparred, people were learning just how important the point guard is to Golden State.

And the Rockets are no easy out. They’re 3-1 since excising Carmelo Anthony, whom even Houston now acknowledges is done there, with three straight double-digit wins over Pacers, Nuggets and Warriors.

Still, it’ll be impossible to look beyond the Green-Durant dynamic until Golden State wins like it did before. In Green’s first game back from suspension, that didn’t come close to happening.

2) The Clippers are winning. That’s important beyond even underlying factors like how they’re playing.

L.A. has won three straight – beating the Bucks in overtime, Warriors in overtime and Spurs 116-111 last night. Against quality competition like that, racking up victories is crucial. Even if the Clippers stumble or have injury issues later, those three wins could be vital come playoff-seeding time.

At 9-5, the Clippers are tied for fourth in the Western Conference. But that’s just two games ahead of 12th. There’s no separation early in the West race, and there might not be margin for error all season.

Other teams will come around – like San Antonio. In a 1-5 stretch, the Spurs have been outscored by 61 without Rudy Gay and have outscored opponents by 24 with him. He was +14 in 25 minutes last night. As he gets healthier, San Antonio should improve.

But the Clippers don’t need to wait on anything. They’re deep and play hard. Lou Williams hits big shots. They’re ready to win right now.

3) The Nuggets avoided complete doom and gloom. After a 9-1 start, Denver had lost four straight. Jamal Murray violated team rules, and Nuggets coach Michael Malone pulled him from the starting lineup. But Denver still cruised to a feel-good 138-93 win over the Hawks.

Monte Morris started and played steadily. Murray was good off the bench. It probably didn’t matter much. The Nuggets likely would have beaten Atlanta with an injured Isaiah Thomas at point guard.

But Denver – especially star Nikola Jokic – still seems like a team that can get too down on itself when things aren’t going well. Momentum snowballs, even when it starts against the Hawks.

Draymond Green reportedly told Kevin Durant: ‘We don’t need you. We won without you. Leave’

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Draymond Green got into an argument with Kevin Durant so feisty, it caused a Warriors player to predict Durant will now leave Golden State in free agency next summer.

Just what did Green say?

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

Green called Durant a “bitch” multiple times, sources said. In a summarized version, sources said Green shouted, “You’re a bitch and you know you’re a bitch.” The rhetoric, sources said, continued even when Kerr attempted to direct the team’s attention to his whiteboard.

Green blurted to Durant something along the lines of, “We don’t need you. We won without you. Leave,” sources said.

Wow. That’s pretty darned harsh. And if Durant walked away say saying “That’s why I’m out“… wow.

This would explain why Green’s teammates supported his suspension. He clearly went too far, as even he expected a fine. But this was quite the way to carry on.

When Green and Durant bickered last year in a similar, though less heated, incident, it was claimed Green was using “reverse psychology” to motivate Durant. I was never convinced whether that was accurate or cooked up after the fact to cover for Green’s misbehavior. Will we hear a similar explanation this time?

Scottie Pippen says Durant-Draymond beef could derail Warriors championship hopes (VIDEO)

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Scottie Pippen is a six-time NBA champion, and has played with some of the biggest personalities to ever grace the league. Charles Barkley, Dennis Rodman, Rasheed Wallace, and Michael Jordan just to name a few. As such, Pippen has some relevant insight into the superstar battle royale that’s happening right now between members of the Golden State Warriors.

On ESPN’s “The Jump” on Thursday, Pippen compared the situation between Draymond Green and Kevin Durant to his time with the Chicago Bulls. In particular, Pippen pointed out that both he and Jordan had issues with Dennis Rodman when he arrived in Chicago from the San Antonio Spurs to start the 1995-96 season.

Pippen also levied a pretty heavy take that not many have leapt to just yet, saying he felt the divide between Durant and Green could destabilize the Warriors enough to cost them this year’s NBA championship.

Via ESPN:

I didn’t like Dennis Rodman. I didn’t like Dennis when he came to the team, Michael [Jordan] didn’t like him, but we existed on the basketball court because we respected what Dennis did on the court and we knew the value that he brought to the game for us. But in this situation, where you’re talking about your teammates, that’s out of character for players. As a team, we bond. We lock hands, and no one is allowed in that circle.

As a player, we knew that this was coming I mean for pretty much the whole 90s our championship run was built on what players wanted. We went against management [a] numerous amount of times. But when it came to play, and we got in between the lines, we played for each other, we played for the city of Chicago. And I think this is one of them situations the players gotta look beyond any situation. This is not one of those situations where they can look ahead. They have to work out their own internal affairs, and right now this could cost them a championship. If KD don’t feel comfortable playing with Draymond, who do you walk away from?

I’m not sure if I am ready to go that far just yet, just because the Warriors have so much firepower when everyone is healthy it’s not clear who would step up and dethrone them even if Durant and Green remain icy toward each other.

The NBA as a league is astute at marketing players individually and putting forth the stories about how well guys get along. It’s also adept at hiding which players actively hate each other, especially when those guys are on the same roster.

Green and Durant have spoken, and although we don’t know if they will ever be friendly again, at this point we have to just watch what happens between the two stars.

More important is the health of the Warriors, and we are seeing just how much they need Stephen Curry now that he is out with a hamstring injury. Golden State has already lost to the Los Angeles Clippers and played a tight game against the Atlanta Hawks at home at Oracle in Curry’s absence.