Feb 7, 2013; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Celtics forward/center Kevin Garnett (5) and Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard (12) battle under the basket during the fourth quarter at TD Banknorth Garden. The Boston Celtics won 116-95. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Golden State Warriors: How Does Dwight Howard Affect Them?

Dec 4, 2012; Houston, TX, USA; Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard (12) reacts after scoring a basket during the third quarter against the Houston Rockets at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The Houston Rockets have instantly become one of the top-tier teams in the Western Conference by signing Dwight Howard. The Rockets snuck into the 2013 playoffs as the eighth-seed but next season they will be expected to compete for one of the top seeds.

The competition in the West is heating up, and the Golden State Warriors are in the thick of it. After finishing the 2012-13 season with a very respectable 47-35 record and the sixth-seed in the West, the Warriors should realistically look to finish the 2013-14 season with at least 55 wins and the fourth-seed in the West. They aggressively pursued Howard but came out of the mix with Andre Iguodala.

Howard’s decision to leave the Los Angeles Lakers (and the Pacific Division) and play in Houston, gives the Warriors a better chance at landing one of the top seeds in the West. The Los Angeles Lakers will likely have a tough time repeating even their forgettable 2012-13 season. The Pacific Division is essentially a two-team race between the Los Angeles Clippers and the Warriors. Though the Clippers are a team that have championship aspirations, the budding rivalry between the two teams should not be minimized. Plus, the Warriors and Clippers both improved significantly in the offseason, and the gap between them has decreased significantly.

Howard is now playing in the most competitive division in the West. San Antonio is a perennial playoff team that somehow seems to be getting better with time. Tony Parker is in his prime, and though Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are in the twilights of their careers, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter are vital components to the Spurs’ success.

The Memphis Grizzlies are also going to be one of Houston and Howard’s toughest challenges throughout the season. The Grizzlies are the most physically and defensively imposing team in the Western Conference. Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph will be looking to lead their team to more success and will have no problem knocking Howard down to achieve their goals.

James Harden is a great player, but a Howard-Harden led team will have trouble even getting past the Spurs and Grizzlies.

The Warriors have upgraded at the wing by signing Iguodala. Klay Thompson, Iguodala and Andrew Bogut are all great-to-elite defenders. The Warriors now have one of the most defensively dominating starting lineups in the entire league and had Howard come to the Warriors, their defense though improved, would not have been as intimidating from the one to five position.

The Warriors were known for their explosive offense and now they have an elite defense that could take them to the next level. Now that Howard has left the Lakers, the division is wide open for the taking and the Warriors only have to best the Clippers to nab one of the top seeds in the West. With one of the top seeds and the best homecourt advantage in Oracle Arena, the Warriors could be the team nobody wants to meet in the 2014 playoffs.

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Tags: Dwight Howard Golden State Warriors Houston Rockets Los Angeles Lakers NBA Free Agency

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