3. The Rockets’ window is closed
The sting of the Houston Rockets’ collapse against the Golden State Warriors in last year’s Western Conference Finals may only get worse as time goes on.
The 65-win Rockets bricked 27 straight 3-point attempts in the deciding Game 7 of that series, allowing the Warriors to escape by the skin of their teeth. While the Warriors went on to win their third title in four years and added four-time All-Star DeMarcus Cousins this summer via their taxpayer mid-level exception, the Rockets hemorrhaged vital contributors over the offseason, losing both Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute in free agency.
Houston brought in the likes of Carmelo Anthony, James Ennis and Michael Carter-Williams to stem the bleeding, but the early returns weren’t promising. Anthony finished with only nine points on 3-of-10 shooting in his regular-season Rockets debut — his fewest ever in a season opener—while Ennis and Carter-Williams finished a combined 7-of-17 (including 3-of-8 from deep) for 17 points.
Houston’s All-Star backcourt of James Harden and Chris Paul had an off night offensively as well, but the team’s defense should be the far larger concern. The Rockets had the NBA’s seventh-best defense last season, but the Pelicans’ frontcourt trio of Anthony Davis, Nikola Mirotic and Julius Randle combined for a whopping 87 points against them Wednesday.
With a back-to-back coming up Saturday against the Los Angeles Lakers and Sunday against Los Angeles Clippers, the Rockets are facing a critical early-season litmus test. If they fall to 1-2 or 0-3, chatter will increase about their championship window having already slammed shut after their Game 7 meltdown in the spring.
The Rockets figure to bounce back, but their margin of error will be narrower unless they can substantially stiffen up on defense. Otherwise, the likes of the Pelicans, Oklahoma City Thunder, Utah Jazz and Denver Nuggets will be hot on their tail to dethrone them as the biggest threat to the Warriors in the West.