By: Rahat Huq
To begin, it's interesting to note that despite a disappointing stretch that included an obliteration at the hands of the New Orleans Pelicans, the Rockets have licked their wounds and sit again at third in the treacherous Western Conference. One should expect Houston to maintain this current pace as the recent losses were probably a direct result of the integration of Josh Smith and the accompanying confusion it caused. The Warriors probably will run away with the conference, much to the delight of the national media. Glancing lower at the standings, as has been my routine, the Pelicans have managed to stay alive in the race, though no one expects that team to beat out both Phoenix and the Thunder. With the arms race escalating (Memphis became even more terrifying with its acquisition of Jeff Green), I fully expect Daryl Morey to cash in on what has to be considered the most valuable draft pick remaining on the trade market (in New Orleans' lottery pick). But for what? Surely Phoenix is in buy mode with its addition of Brandon Wright. And lastly of interest is the Thunder's stagnation: most felt they would have climbed to sixth by now, and continued to climb; on the contrary, Oklahoma City appears to be in a dogfight with Phoenix.
The Rockets will get two more chances to beef up their record, visiting both Brooklyn and Orlando. Then they come home for a pair against the Thunder and Warriors. Houston must show it can win against good teams when they are at full health to actually be taken seriously. I've been saying since last year that the Thunder and Clipper matchups are all that matters because those teams render Dwight Howard completely useless. But if those teams end up not even being threats (ie: if both are eliminated before even facing Houston), does it really even matter? Still, I'm interested to see how the insertion of Donatas Motiejunas affects Dwight's production against the Thunder frontline. Serge Ibaka paid little attention to Terrence Jones, being able to make life miserable for Howard from the weakside. That won't be the case against the vastly more talented Motiejunas.
The Warriors, despite their sterling record, don't scare me.