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Adding the underrated Trevor Ariza (#1) to the already potent duo of Harden (#13) and Dwight Howard (#12) will ease the loss of Chandler Parsons. going to be very good for us,” McHale said. “I like Troy Daniels. Troy got my eye because he dove on a ball in Denver and was fighting in a game. It was a back-to-back, long trip, I know the guys were tired. He went out there and battled and right away I said I like this kid.” Houston might have some question marks heading into the season, but McHale has no doubt this current crop of youngsters has what it takes to make the most of their opportunities. “Some of those guys are going to step up and do well and we’re going to need them to. Ish Smith, Isaiah Canaan, those guys are going to have to step up and play Bill Baptist/NBAE/Getty Images well for us. Joey Dorsey’s been in Europe. Tough kid, going to rebound, do stuff,” McHale. But it’s not just McHale who believes in this group, one current face of the franchise is equally optimistic about what they are capable of doing. “Myself, Trevor Ariza, JT Terry and James Harden, all that experience, we can really help the young guys,” Howard said. “We’re all going to have those bad games or those moments where we go through adversity on the floor. We just got to learn how to fight through them as a team and it’s on me, James and the rest of the vets to lead by example when we have those moments. We’ve been through the worst and it’s only going to make us better.” With the pick-and-roll combination of Harden and Howard, the Rockets won’t be lacking in options down the stretch. The key will be how the rest of the lineup fares with the obvious attention on its two stars. There will be plenty of open shots for the other three guys on the floor. If a few capable young candidates from the Rockets roster emerge to alleviate some scoring from the All-Star duo, expect that Houston remains a viable contender in the West. OUTLOOK On paper, it looks like the Rockets figure to take a step back after losing Asik, Casspi, Lin and Parsons. And if Houston can’t find better balance between offense and defense, this could be a long year in Clutch City. But there’s little question about their starting five and ability to score, but with a number of unproven yet talented players counted on to step up, the Rockets are a team that really could go either way. They could rise up and surprise some people by making a push into the top four in the West. Then again, they could be fighting for one of the last two playoff spots, which wouldn’t surprise anyone. “Well, I think we learned a lot the whole year,” Howard said of last season. “One thing that we talked about all summer is never taking any possessions off, understanding that each moment of the game counts.” A 50-win season—no easy feat in the Western Conference—is not outside the realm of possibility for the Rockets. Once in the postseason, the team’s improved defense will actually reap dividends. SPOTLIGHT: James Harden/Dwight Howard Since Harden and Howard share top billing, it’s only fair to discuss them both. Last season was their first together with the Rockets and with a year of experience, expect that chemistry to be even better in year two. “We had a pretty good season last year, especially for me and Dwight’s first time being together. This year’s going to be even better,” Harden said. “We figured each other out. I think we’re familiar with each other, not only me and Dwight, but Patrick Beverley, Terrence Jones and the other guys as well.” That strong bond between Harden and Howard extends to the rest of the Rockets, who are a very close team. In fact, if Houston does rise up and become a surprise contender in the West, it could be due to great team chemistry, which all starts with their two best players. For the Rockets to reach championship heights, the duo have to work on different things. For Harden, it means dedicating himself on the defensive end. While popular YouTube compilations might paint Harden as the worst defender ever, he’s actually better than the out-of-context footage might suggest. Still, Harden has to get better. He might have Howard as the last line of defense, but he needs to minimize opportunities for the opposition to penetrate past the first line of defense. Howard, on the other hand, has to step up and be a more dependable option on the low post, especially when Harden is not on the floor. Howard needs to be a threat in the paint to command double-teams, creating space for the Rockets’ shooters to bomb away. If they both step up respectively, the Rockets can be a huge threat in a short playoff series.


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