NBA PM: Texas Triangle November Preview
VIDEO OF THE DAY – Emmanuel Mudiay
HOOPSWORLD catches up with Emmanuel Mudiay at the 2013 adidas Nations.Watch More Video Here
Houston Rockets Tested Early, Often
No matter how talented a team is on paper, there is always an adjustment period when a number of new players are involved, and you can be sure that the Rockets are in for something of an adjustment period. They landed the top free agent on the market in Dwight Howard, and now they just have to work him into an offense that ran a post-up just 4.3 percent of the time last season. It’s a good problem to have, to be sure, but it does mean that there are likely to be some rough spots early on.
The NBA schedule was released earlier this week, and it holds some real gems for Houston over the first month of games. They ease into things with games against the rebuilding Charlotte Bobcats and Utah Jazz sandwiched around an I-45 rivalry game with the ever-changing Dallas Mavericks. It’s easy to see Houston starting the season 3-0; in fact, it’s difficult to imagine them dropping one of those first three. It’s the next four games that will give Rockets fans an early indication of just how good the team might be.
On November 4th, the Rockets will pay a call on the deeper, more talent and better-coached Los Angeles Clippers, one of their primary challengers in the race for home court advantage in the Western Conference. Then they head to the Rose City to take on the Portland Trail Blazers, who will actually have a second unit this season and should be a playoff team. Then it’s back to Toyota Center for back-to-back games against Los Angeles – first the Lakers and then the Clippers again. The Lakers are hard to predict, but if Kobe Bryant is healthy you can be sure he and the Lakers will want to send a message to Howard and his new team. When Kobe wants to send a message, things usually get ugly. The Rockets would do well to split those four games, so when the lights go out on Saturday the 9th, it’s reasonable to predict the Rockets will 5-2 on the young season.
The 11th of November will bring the improved, but still rebuilding Toronto Raptors to town. Rudy Gay, Jonas Valanciunas and former Rockets point guard Kyle Lowry promise to make Toronto very competitive, but they are not in a class with the Rockets just yet. A two-game road trip then takes Houston to Philadelphia, where the Sixers are starting over almost from scratch, and a thumping is sure to be the result. Then it’s on to New York to play the Knicks, who believe they are contenders and they just might be right. If Houston splits that road trip, they’ll be 6-3 when they get back home on the 16th.
It remains to be seen just how good the Denver Nuggets will be now that their general manager, their head coach and a key player in Andre Iguodala are all gone. It’s unlikely that they can compete at Houston’s level, and with the limbo-dwelling Boston Celtics next on the schedule, it should be a nice two-win home stand for the Rockets at 8-3. They can then pad their record a little more with a win at Dallas before bouncing back home to take on Rick Adelman’s Minnesota Timberwolves. Finally healthy, the Timberwolves have all of the pieces to challenge Houston. Still, the Rockets are likely to be 10-3 when they face three contenders over the final four games of the month.
If Howard is the best center in the NBA, right behind him is Memphis Grizzlies big man Marc Gasol, and with Tony Allen at the two to guard James Harden, the Grizzlies have the personnel to stop Houston’s two best offensive options. Combined with the continuity the Grizzlies have on their roster gives them the edge, especially with the game being in Memphis. Then it’s back to Houston to play the Atlanta Hawks, who look to be a little worse than last season, and then a tough back-to-back hosting the Brooklyn Nets and then heading to San Antonio to play the Spurs. Beating Brooklyn and losing to San Antonio is very easy to see, making Houston’s record potentially 12-5 at the end of November. Not a bad start to the season at all.
Toughest Schedule for Dallas Mavericks?
Dallas Mavericks fans will once again need a lineup card to figure out who the guys in white are to start the new season, as for the second year in a row Dallas has been one of the highest turnover teams in terms of personnel. Management is doing their best to give the impression that the team will overwhelm the low expectations being cast for them across the NBA nation, and they will certainly get an opportunity to begin proving people wrong as the new season gets underway.
After a very winnable home opener against the Atlanta Hawks, things get hairy in a hurry for Dallas. They head down to Houston for a date with the substantially better Rockets, then take on the Western Conference Finalist Memphis Grizzlies and host the Los Angeles Lakers (supposedly with Kobe Bryant healthy and playing). From there they head out on the road to take on Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder and visit the deep and (finally, hopefully) healthy Minnesota Timberwolves. Dallas could win two games over that stretch, but it’s also entirely likely that the Hawks game is the only scratch in the win column after the Mavs have logged their first six games.
Fortunately, the Mavs should be able to make up some ground as the next wave of games hits. They take on the rebuilding Milwaukee Bucks and the bubble-bound Washington Wizards before they face the defending champs in Miami on November 15th. Then it’s two more rebuilding teams in the Orlando Magic and Philadelphia 76ers before they return home to face Houston for the second time. Assuming the Mavs take care of business with the Bucks, Wizards, Magic and Sixers, they could very well be 5-8 heading into the final six games of the month.
The Mavs play four of their last six games at home in November, starting with the Utah Jazz, who are turning their roster over to the next generation this season. That should mean a good win for Dallas before they play a home and home with the Denver Nuggets. It’s awfully difficult to win both games of a home and home, so we can suppose that Dallas will split those. Then the extremely dangerous Golden State Warriors come to town, the Mavs make a quick trip to Atlanta, and finish things out with the lethal Timberwolves. It’s easy to see Dallas getting that game in Atlanta, not so much the games against the Warriors and Timberwolves. When the dust settles on what promises to be a character-building November, the Mavericks could very well be 7-11 on the young season.
82-Game Gauntlet Begins Anew For San Antonio
As the San Antonio Spurs once again enter a new season with an older core of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, the question of their age and durability will continue to be the focus of most of the outside media. They turned back the clock last season, getting within one win of their fifth NBA championship, but it remains to be seen if they can pull that off again.
The schedule promises to test the Spurs right out of the gate, with six of their first seven games coming against possible playoff teams. The Memphis Grizzlies played their last game of last season against the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals, and they will start the new season the same way. Then the Los Angeles Lakers, Portland Trail Blazers and Denver Nuggets will look to test the Spurs both inside and out. As much as the Spurs like to pace themselves and save their best for the postseason, they will also come out of the gates looking to win some early games and get everyone into midseason form. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see them start 4-0 despite some tough early competition.
On November 6th the rebuilding Phoenix Suns visit AT&T Center, promising to give the San Antonio reserves some playing time in what is likely to be a garbage time fourth quarter. If the Spurs are 5-0 after that game, as they very well could be, they’ll have a hard time keeping their record perfect through the next two games. The Golden State Warriors are in town for a Friday night date, after which the Spurs head to New York to play potential contenders in the New York Knicks. The boys in black would do well to split those, potentially making them 6-1.
There is a significant talent drop off over the next four games, with three rebuilding teams in the Philadelphia 76ers, Utah Jazz and Boston Celtics sandwiched around a game against the Washington Wizards. The Wizards are by far the best team in that stretch and could hand the Spurs their second loss of the season. After that stretch San Antonio is likely to be 9-2 on the season, but then things get really interesting again.
The Spurs have their second date with the Grizzlies, this time in Memphis, on Friday the 22nd, after which they return home to face a Cleveland Cavaliers team that features one of the best young point guards in the league in Kyrie Irving and might have Andrew Bynum in the starting lineup. Then it’s the ever-improving New Orleans Pelicans, with Jrue Holiday and Anthony Davis leading the way, followed by a visit with the contending Oklahoma City Thunder. They get a quick break when they hit Orlando to play the rebuilding Magic, but then jump right back into the thick of the West’s playoff teams with Dwight Howard and the Houston Rockets. If the Spurs drop the game in Memphis, take care of business with Cleveland, New Orleans and Orlando, and split their games with OKC and Houston, they could be 13-4 when the dust settles on November. Not a bad start at all for the team everyone seems to think is on the verge of an old-age collapse.
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