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Houston Rockets @ San Antonio Spurs on 10/24/13

Is this the year that the Spurs and the Rockets trade places? The pendulum is swinging toward the Rockets, and they have the Spurs in their sites.  It’s improbable that the Rockets will go to the finals and the Spurs will drop to the 8th seed, but this could be Houston’s time.

Age/Experience

Experience is one of the most valuable assets in the NBA and it’s often the one most sought by GMs and coaches. It’s especially critical in the playoffs. While the Spurs have experience, the Rockets have youth and the vitality of the Rockets younger players is powerful — Harden and Parsons are 24, Llin and Beverly are 25, Howard and Asik are 27.  Getting Howard increases critical postseason experience for the Rockets and will definitely help in crunch time.

Though certainly experienced, its not clear how long the Spurs group of older men can continue at such a high level, Duncan is 37 and Ginobili is 36.  There is a high probability Duncan won’t be able to perform at last year’s rate. Popovich and Duncan are nearing the end of their careers, and when they retire, this Spurs era is done.

Stability/Chemistry

The Rockets are still building, though the foundation is stabilizing. There is no doubt Morey is one of the best in the league, but now his role will change. He’ll have to build around the stars instead of sacrificing everything to get them. Can he piece in the role players? Can he pull a  blockbuster like the Lakers getting Gasol?  The Rockets need to build on their core and stay together long enough to start a new legacy.  It will take a while to figure out how to play as a team (look at the Lake show of last year).

The Spurs have some serious history and Pop has been one of the most stabilizing and classiest coaches the league has seen.  It’ll be much more of the same this year for the Spurs, though their success will depend on how health and age is taking it’s toll.  Game six of last year’s finals was the peak for this era of the Spurs.  Had they won, Pop and Duncan could have retired on top.

Role Players/The Bench

Coming so successfully off the pine for much of his career in Boston, McHale knows the importance of the bench. For that reason this team doesn’t trade Asik early. The Rockets will spend the better part of the year seeing how he and Howard can play together (maybe 5 – 10 minutes a game), and then how Asik can lead the second team with Beverly or Lin. Can Asik learn from McHale how to happily come off the bench and dominate?

Lin won’t mind coming off the bench, it will afford him more freedom and points, making him a strong leader for the second team.  With Casspi, Asik and Garcia healthy, we’re getting an early look at a potentially great bench.

The Spurs are the masters for developing role players and getting seasoned free agents to come into the fold successfully.  Over the years, they’ve been able to fit the right pieces for the right prices to stay competitive at a high level, and rotate them in and out as they see fit.  But with the success of the Spurs depending on their aging core, this becomes much more difficult.

This year, 70% of GMs pick the Spurs to win the Southwest and 30% pick the Rockets.  40% of the GMs think the Spurs win the West, with only 3% picking the Rockets.  I believe it’s a 50/50 chance the Rockets overtake the Spurs in the standings and the playoffs this year.

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About the author: Eric Nielsen is the owner of Lotushouse Records, an English major from SDSU, a basketball player and life-long passionate Rockets fan. He’s been following the team since the days of Moses Malone, Rudy T. and Calvin Murphy.

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