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Could Lawson put Rockets over the top in West?

Last season's run gives Houston hope it is Finals-ready

POSTED: Oct 16, 2015 9:22 AM ET

By Fran Blinebury

BY Fran Blinebury

NBA.com

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After their first trip to the Western Conference finals in 18 years, the Rockets are confident they can build on the experience and take the next step to a championship. Having James Harden and Dwight Howard to anchor the lineup gives them a good start, and the addition of Ty Lawson could be the boost that's needed.

ICYMI

James Harden's spectacular do-it-all season made him a runner-up to Stephen Curry in the KIA MVP race last season, but it also took a toll as he ran out of gas in the conference finals. ... The trade for point guard Ty Lawson was brilliant, costing the Rockets no key parts of the rotation and adding a needed additional ball handler and slashing scorer to the offense. ... Lawson could be the missing piece. ... Dwight Howard missed exactly half the regular season a year ago due to leg injuries.

THREE POINTS

1. The Rockets don't want Harden to be any less dynamic as a scorer, but they do want him to be less burdened by constantly initiating the offense and handling the ball. The thought is it should keep him fresher for the end of games and the playoffs and make one the NBA's top closers more unstoppable.

2. When healthy, Howard has been everything the Rockets hoped in the middle of the lineup. Without a recurrence of the leg problems that sidelined him for 41 games, he's a force in the paint at both ends of the floor. It happens just in time to become a free agent next summer.

3. The return of forward Trevor Ariza a year ago was instrumental in the Rockets becoming a top 10 defensive team. His length and athleticism make him a much-needed stopper on the wing, and the ability to make 3-pointers can be a deadly part of the attack.

MAN ON THE SPOT

Ty Lawson has the perfect opportunity to put an ugly end to his stay in Denver in the rearview mirror and become a key part of a true championship contender. First, he's got to prove he has his personal problems under control and his life back in order. Then Lawson must show the Rockets he can bring intensity and commitment to the task every day. His ability as a secondary ball handler and scorer could make a potent offense off-the-charts better.

STARTING FIVE

James Harden | 27.4 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 7.0 apg
Combines unstoppable drive to basket with step-back 3s as a breathtaking offensive force.

Patrick Beverley | 10.1 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 3.4 apg
Ferocious defender who gets under opponents' skin, but has been injury prone in recent seasons.

Dwight Howard | 15.8 ppg, 10.5 rpg, 1.2 apg
No longer flies like Superman, but can still dominate the paint at both ends of the court.

Trevor Ariza | 12.8 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 2.5 apg
Excellent wing defender can lock down his man and provide help, while also hitting 3-pointers.

Terrence Jones | 11.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 1.1 apg
Runs hot and cold at power forward spot and faded as the playoffs progressed.

KEY RESERVES

Ty Lawson | 15.2 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 9.6 apg
Big offseason addition could lift Rockets to the next level.

Corey Brewer | 11.9 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 1.7 apg
Runs floor, slashes to hoop and plays hard-nosed defense.

Donatas Motiejunas | 12.0 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 1.8 apg
Returns from back surgery and ready to break out.

THE BOTTOM LINE

In a Western Conference loaded with Warriors, Thunder, Spurs and Clippers, the Rockets often get overlooked. But they proved last season that could be a foolish mistake. The Rockets are the dark horse to ride.

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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