Predicting 2013-14 Western Conference Standings Pre-Free Agency

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No. 1 Seed – Houston Rockets (2012-13 – 8th Seed)

Mar 6, 2013; Dallas, TX, USA; Houston Rockets head coach Kevin McHale talks to his team during a timeout from the game against the Dallas Mavericks at the American Airlines Center. The Mavs beat the Rockets 112-108. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The Rockets are taking off, and with the possibility of luring in free agency’s two biggest fish (Dwight Howard and Chris Paul), they could immediately become the favorite to come out of the West. Further, a “Big Three” of Paul, James Harden and Howard would make the Rockets look unbeatable on paper.

The Rockets’ main flaw in 2012-13 was on the defensive side of the ball. While they were second in the league in points per game with 106, they allowed 102.5 points per game, which the was the third-most in the league. Howard and Paul would improve the Rockets’ defense. Paul is a five-time All-NBA defensive team selection, and Howard is three-time Defensive Player of the Year.

Paul’s impact on Houston could be even greater than Howard’s impact. He is one of the best, if not the best, point guards in the league, making him a huge upgrade over the inconsistent Jeremy Lin. Paul ranks 16th and sixth in the league in isolation and pick-and-roll plays, respectively. These are two of Houston’s primary plays.

Assuming that the Rockets can pull off both Paul and Howard, the combination of their high-paced play and great perimeter and post defense makes them an instant first seed. Now,“on paper” can sometimes be discrete from reality (put together an All-Star starting five and a coach of the year winner, and what could go wrong?). But I would argue that the locker room chemistry and the hunger  for a ring would create a unique scenario, and thus, an extremely successful season.