They hope the arrival of Dwight Howard brings even more success.
Wednesday night's opener in Houston against the inferior Charlotte Bobcats should provide a good chance to start in winning fashion.
Just over a year ago, the Rockets had Jeremy Lin and not much else in terms of star power or even recognizable names on a young and inexperienced team.
Houston traded for Harden just before the start of last season and he helped the Rockets return to the playoffs for the first time since 2009. Their offseason acquisition of Howard, combined with Harden's development, has catapulted the Rockets (45-37) from an afterthought in the Western Conference to a contender quicker than most anyone expected.
The challenge, of course, is for the Rockets to live up to expectations.
"We're definitely not going to be the favorite nor should we be, we've proven nothing," general manager Daryl Morey said. "We've got players that if we get them to gel and go the right way we give ourselves a shot to make some noise."
Houston signed Howard to a four-year contract worth about $88 million after one season with the Lakers. They're hoping a change of scenery will help Howard re-establish himself as the top center in the NBA.
"I'm excited to be here and I just want to win," Howard said.
Howard played in 76 games last season, but admitted that he didn't feel right after offseason back surgery. His 17.1 points a game were the lowest he's had since he averaged 15.8 in his second season and the 12.4 rebounds were his fewest since 2006. The Rockets staff put him on a new training regimen and believe he's back to his old self.
Harden had to adjust on the fly last season after his last-minute trade from Oklahoma City and is grateful to his teammates and coaching for making his transition easier. He and the rest of the Rockets aim to do the same thing for Howard this year.
"We feel the same way about Dwight, making sure he's good and making sure he's in the best situations to be successful," Harden said. "And once we get him going everything will work itself out."
Howard presents an immediate challenge for Charlotte (21-61) on the boards, where Bobcats coach Steve Clifford believes his team's biggest weakness lies.
Charlotte made a splash signing free agent center Al Jefferson to a $40.5 million contract and drafting 7-foot forward Cody Zeller fourth overall to upgrade its frontcourt. But Clifford said the Bobcats only have two proven rebounders - Jefferson and small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, last year's No. 2 overall pick.
Clifford said "other than that we don't have guys that have been even average (rebounding) with any consistency."
That has the first-year coach a little concerned despite a roster that he views as significantly more talented than the previous two seasons when the Bobcats went a combined 28-120 - the worst mark in the NBA.
"The bottom line is this: We can get a lot better on offense and a lot better on defense, but if we don't get a lot better rebounding it may not matter," Clifford said.
The Bobcats didn't give themselves much of a chance last year.
They were 29th in the league in defensive rebounds and were outrebounded on average by 3.9 per game, also second-worst in the league.
"Rebounding is something this team has struggled with and to be the team we've got to be we have to improve that," Jefferson said. "There are no excuses. It has to be done."
Howard is averaging 19.8 points, 15.1 rebounds and 3.9 blocks over his last 29 matchups with the Bobcats.
Houston has won 13 of the last 15 meetings, including eight straight at home.
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- Charlotte Bobcats
- Houston Rockets
- Dwight Howard
- James Harden