Welcome to Hoop Dreams, a season preview unlike any other you’ll read before the 2016-17 season tips off. The premise is simple. We’ll be providing 30 of these fictional forays because it simply stinks that only one team can win the title each year. The list of contending teams seems to shrink with each campaign, and we wanted to provide something to those fans who only get to dream of Larry O’Brien during the offseason. Before October, every team can win the NBA title. Don’t believe us? Then keep reading. – Ed
The glaring weakness for the 2016-17 Houston Rockets was apparent on day one of training camp: while the roster was loaded with offensive talent, they would struggle on defense all year. Things got worse when defensive stalwart Patrick Beverly had to go on the shelf with a knee injury, and the Rockets were left with only one choice: simply outscore the opposition.
Loaded with firepower, the strategy worked on lesser opponents. Three-point barrages from James Harden, Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson and burgeoning second-year man Sam Dekker were more than enough to topple teams like the Pistons, Lakers, Knicks, Kings, Nets and Pelicans in huge blowouts in the first two months of the season. However, when matched up against top tier teams like the Warriors, Cavaliers, Clippers, Blazers, and Raptors, the Rockets simply could not produce the late game stops necessary to pull out wins.
This created the odd circumstance in which they were 17-3 against teams under .500 and 1-14 against teams over .500 after a New Year’s Eve game against the Knicks. The Rockets were feasting on lesser opponents with their No. 2 ranked offense but simply could not match the upper echelon of the league. It was later that night at a raucous New Year’s Eve party at James Harden’s house — one that featured appearances from the entire Kardashian Klan and Kanye West and lit up TMZ and Snapchat — where the team finally made a breakthrough. The new strategic wrinkle that would make the Rockets true contenders for the title came from the strangest source: Kanye.