Houston Rockets: The Under-The-Radar NBA Finals Favorites


After quietly upgrading its roster this summer, the Houston Rockets might be the most dangerous team in the Western Conference

The Houston Rockets didn’t sign any “big” free agents this offseason, yet they still improved. They still have the NBA MVP runner up in James Harden. They still have a rebounding and shot blocking terror in Dwight Howard and one of the best two-way players in Trevor Ariza, yet they still get no love.

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Last season, they pulled off one of the most Hollywood-like comebacks when they defeated the Los Angeles Clippers 4-3 in the Western Conference semifinals, after being down 3-1.

But it’s not even that. That comeback is not the reason why I give the Houston Rockets a legitimate shot at winning an NBA Championship this year. As good as Harden and Howard are and will be again this season, there was still something missing from that team, and now it has arrived – gift-wrapped at that.

Ty Lawson was the missing piece. A point guard is not necessarily needed to win in the NBA, but it doesn’t hurt to have good one at your disposal either. And before Rockets fans begin to rush to the defense of Patrick Beverley, please hear me out on this.

Beverley is a solid player, but what does it say about his game or the trust of his coach when Harden is practically running the point with Beverley in the game?

Beverley managed to average 30 minutes, 10 points but only three assists per game. The Houston Rockets clearly lacked another playmaker opposite of Harden, something that he even admitted. Lawson is, ideally, that piece.

With the expectation that Lawson will eventually break into the starting lineup, Beverley is where he belongs – running the second unit.

To fans on the outside looking in, when they see the Rockets all they see is Harden and rightfully so. He is the face of the franchise, but the team is more balanced than you might expect.

Dwight Howard, once he was healthy late in the season and the playoffs, proved that he still can be one of the best centers in the game when he’s focused, as he finished last season averaging 16 points and 11 rebounds – 16 and 14, respectively, in the playoffs.

If he enters this year with his head screwed on straight, with the fortune of some good health, he and Harden alone could lead the Rockets to a championship, but they’ll have help.

For a team that loves to shoot the 3, the Rockets bench just got a little better with the addition of Marcus Thornton. Add Thornton to a mix of players like Harden, Jason Terry, Corey Brewer, Ariza and now Lawson, and teams will try to cover the perimeter at break-neck speed, but to no avail.

If all fails on the outside, now they have the facilitator that should make Howard, Terrance Jones and Dontas Motiejunas, who missed the later portion of last season, happy on the blocks. Lawson has the dribble skills and pass-first mindset to get his teammates in the right position to succeed. Howard hasn’t played with a point guard of this caliber since his days in Orlando, with Jameer Nelson.

I understand the Western Conference is loaded but with the addition of Lawson, the Houston Rockets might have the best group of players, from top to bottom, on paper.

The Clippers improved by adding Paul Pierce and Lance Stephenson, but how much damaged was done after their 3-1 series-leading collapse? The Spurs were seen as the big winners of free agency by adding LaMarcus Aldridge and David West, but players must learn to accept a lesser role now – and that’s not a certainty right now.

Russell Westbrook and Enes Kanter must share their on-court bond with the returning Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka. The defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors are a sure bet to keep their seat atop the West due to their chemistry and style of play, but they almost certainly can’t repeat last year’s dominant performance.

The road to a championship is not easy; it’s full of ups and down, joys and pains. The Houston Rockets felt both last season during their spectacular playoff run, which was reminiscent of the 2013-14 Golden State Warriors before they managed to put it all together last season.

James Harden is the heart, but Lawson is the key to this season’s success story. The Rockets have all the pieces in place.

While all the talk is circling another Texas team, the one that everyone is overlooking just might be the one everyone is celebrating come June.

Next: Los Angeles Clippers: The NBA's Fake Contenders