Rockets launch season of big expectations vs. Pelicans

HOUSTON -- Sometimes the waiting is the most difficult part.

Having taken the NBA by storm last season en route to a franchise-record 65 wins and Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals, the Rockets spent the offseason lamenting what might have been while reworking the margins of their roster in preparation for another title pursuit.

The Rockets host the New Orleans Pelicans at Toyota Center on Wednesday with their eyes on the prize once more. Standing between them and their third Larry O'Brien Trophy are the Golden State Warriors, as always. Houston revamped its rotation with additions noteworthy and complementary, knowing each piece could make an impact over the course of a long haul.

"Just the additions that we've added to our team, kind of piggybacking off of last year," Rockets guard and league MVP James Harden said on what stirs his excitement entering the season opener. "Just bringing this whole thing together. Training camp has been really, really good, preseason has been great. But this long grind of an 82-game season will be even better."

After losing defensive-minded forwards Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute to free agency, the Rockets finally landed veteran forward Carmelo Anthony following a multiyear pursuit.

Anthony is the highest-profile addition, but not the only personnel change of note for Houston. The rotation will now feature James Ennis, Michael Carter-Williams, and Marquese Chriss, with Brandon Knight likely to join the fray once when he returns from offseason knee surgery. How these newcomers reshape the Rockets' established identity remains to be seen.

"You never know until you play the first game," Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni said. "There'll be some rough spots that we have to get better at but I think the guys physically are in a pretty good spot and we're ready to roll."

The Pelicans made offseason changes, too, namely guard Elfrid Payton, forward Julius Randle, and center Jahlil Okafor. But their personality was set midway through last season when DeMarcus Cousins was lost to injury, Nikola Mirotic arrived via trade one week later and the Pelicans led the league in pace over the final 31 games at 102.9 possessions per 48 minutes.

Nothing has changed in that regard. The Pelicans still aim to run, with All-NBA center/forward Anthony Davis and standout two-way guard Jrue Holiday running the show on both ends.

"We have more shooting, spread out the floor especially with Jrue, AD," Pelicans guard E'Twaun Moore said. "Those guys are going to be penetrating and drawing a lot of attention and making shots, and making it a lot easier for everyone on the floor."

Change is a companion for most franchises during the offseason. Championship-caliber teams adjust quickly to the alterations and waste little time getting their seasons off to roaring starts.

"I think everybody is going to go through growing pains," Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. "Obviously, Houston still has their team together; Golden State still has their team together. Those teams are very good teams but I think everybody is going to have some adjustments they have to make and obviously playing in the West is not easy, but playing in the East is not easy either if you look at the teams there, too."


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