Dallas Mavericks

NBA preview: Three things to watch for with the Rockets

Houston is still feeling the sting of last season’s first-round playoff exit against Portland. James Harden and Dwight Howard are still the headliners, but it’ll be interesting how much, if any, they miss Chandler Parsons, who left for Dallas. Here are three things to watch for this season with the Rockets:

1Will Dwight Howard carry the Rockets deep into the playoffs? A Dwight Howard team hasn’t gone past the first round of the playoffs since Orlando lost to Boston in 2010 in the East Finals. And that includes three different teams — Orlando, the Los Angeles Lakers and Houston Rockets. At some point, Howard needs to step up and show that he still has what it takes to carry a team a long distance.

2Will Harden add any defense to his game? Did anyone see the embarrassing tape that made the rounds on YouTube of the shoddy defense played last year by James Harden? It’s a good bet every team saw it. Or at least knows of it. Harden must make a concerted effort to play some defense, or else teams will go directly at him every time they have the ball.

3Can the Rockets make up for heavy off-season losses? The Rockets were hit hard in the off-season. Forwards Chandler Parsons and Omer Asik, who started the final playoff game against Portland, are now with Dallas and New Orleans, respectively. And one of last year’s top reserves, Jeremy Lin now plays for the Los Angeles Lakers. The Rockets are hoping Trevor Ariza and Terrence Jones can take up some of the slack. — Dwain Price