It’s time to panic over James Harden‘s knee injury! Luckily, that one is fiction. The Houston Rockets are breathing a sigh of relief knowing that Harden simply bruised his knee and appears to be just fine. The Rockets themselves are just fine as well, having just finished up a solid 6-1 preseason in which they led the NBA in points per game (106.7) and point differential (+10.4). Let’s go back and look at the preseason and based on what we’ve seen so far, let’s play “Fact or Fiction.”
Omer Asik is going to sulk in his diminished role – FACT
Asik has already made it known that he wasn’t crazy about bringing in Dwight Howard to start at center. Since then, he’s somewhat redacted his statements and says he’s just interested in winning and they’ll see how it goes. Sounds like someone’s true feelings got out and now he’s trying to do some public relations work to me.
He was sidelined early in the preseason by a strained calf, but played in the Rockets last three games of the preseason. He didn’t wow anyone with his averages of 3.3 points and 6.7 rebounds in just more than 20 minutes per game. He shot just 4-for-15 from the field and a ghastly 1-for-6 from the free-throw line. Lastly, he’s yet to block a shot. He needs to play closer to the basket, but there’s no room there. Asik isn’t happy and he’s playing like it.
Dwight Howard is back to his normal self - FACT
Rumors of Howard’s demise were greatly exaggerated. Yes, he was hurt and wasn’t nearly as explosive as in previous years. However, it’s not as if Howard didn’t do a tremendous job defensively with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2012-13, because he did (consider what he had around him — it was impressive). In fact, those Lakers were 5.1 points worse per-100 possessions (per 82games.com), attempted six less free-throws and gave up three more free-throw attempts. Howard was superglue holding together a paper airplane.
Aside from having more athletic players surrounding him this year, Howard is also that much healthier. The preseason has been an opportunity to knock some rust off of his game and that’s exactly what he’s done. Over his last five games, he’s played just 23.2 minutes but has averages of 10.8 points, 10.6 rebounds, 2.0 blocks and 1.0 steals. His last three games, he’s corralled 17, 16 and 10 rebounds.
Francisco Garcia will be the X-factor offensively - FICTION
We can’t forget about Chandler Parsons, even though he’s had somewhat of a pedestrian preseason. Garcia, however, has shown the ability to drain 3′s and produce turnovers. Through his last five appearances, Garcia is 15-of-32 (46.8 percent) from the 3-point line. He’s also added in seven steals and four blocks during that time.
It’s a blessing for the Rockets, because throughout the grind of an 82-game schedule, they’re going to face injuries and they’re going to need quality depth. Although power forward is a big question mark, they’re going to be solid at the small forward with Parsons and Garcia (even though he’s listed as a shooting guard, he started at small forward and can continue that in a pinch).
The Houston Rockets will host a first-round playoff series - FACT
Taking a look at the Western Conference, it’s difficult to find another team that matches up to the combination of Harden and Howard. Sure, they have their holes in the lineup (who doesn’t?), but as a squad, this team should be able to finish in the top four of the conference. The Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies, Golden State Warriors and Rockets will be fighting for those top seeds.
I see the Rockets winning their division, outlasting the Spurs and the Grizzlies, which would net them homecourt. Of course, everything is subject to teams staying healthy, but we can say that about all 30 NBA squads. When healthy, this team is going to do special things and are going to be positioned well in the playoffs.