AOL.com's Preseason NBA Power Rankings: 4. Houston Rockets
It's just a matter of days now until the 2015-16 NBA season officially tips off on Oct. 27, and as the magic number dwindles closer and closer to zero, we're fast approaching to coveted No. 1 spot in our daily team previews and power rankings.
Yesterday, the Los Angeles Clippers came in at No. 5. As we dive deeper into the Western Conference's heavyweights, today we'll take a closer look at a team that was three wins from the NBA Finals a year ago.
The Houston Rockets won 56 games last year in a brutally competitive West. And this summer, they got better.
It's a scary thought for the other Western Conference top dogs, envisioning a James Harden-led offense with Dwight Howard operating the paint, surrounded by three-point shooting -- but now with Ty Lawson starting in the same backcourt as well.
With Harden's playmaking ability, Lawson will face an adjustment coming from Denver, where the ball was in his hands enough for him to assist on 43 percent of his teammates' made buckets while he was on the floor -- the fourth-highest mark in the league. Harden's ball-dominant style has driven him to MVP-level play with Houston, and the Rockets shouldn't actively try to change that.
But having Lawson around gives Houston a much more versatile attack -- even if Patrick Beverley still ends up logging significant minutes with the first team. With Beverley best suited in lineups with a ball-dominant guard (like Harden or Lawson), Kevin McHale will have plenty of options when playing around with rotations in the early going. A crunch-time lineup with Lawson, Beverley, Harden, Trevor Ariza and Howard could also be deployed, benefitting Houston with plus-defenders in the backcourt, at the wing and at the rim -- to go along with a spaced-out floor for Harden to operate.
Donatas Motiejunas, Jason Terry and Corey Brewer all return to the reserve unit, while Clint Capela should see more impact minutes after an extended run in the postseason. Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell should figure into the rotation somehow in their rookie years -- both able to add athleticism and versatility on both ends of the floor.
From top to bottom, the Rockets are a team to be feared. Particularly if the team gets a full season from Howard -- he played in just 41 games last season and is fighting back troubles this preseason -- the Rockets will be in contention to come away with the Western Conference.
Of course, several other teams atop the West also improved. So how quickly the team adjusts to Lawson logging the majority of minutes at the point could make or break Houston's hopes in the West.
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