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Van Gundy: Rockets Championship Contenders If Harden And Howard Can Lead Them

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(Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

(Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

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Houston (CBS HOUSTON) - Former Houston Rockets coach and current NBA Analyst for ESPN, Jeff Van Gundy,  stopped by the SportsRadio 610 studios to talk with Nick Wright and John Lopez In The Loop on Tuesday about the Rockets.

He sees a team with a lot of potential.  A team that can even go all the way, if they can get a few things right.

“They’re going to score enough to win,” Van Gundy said. “Scoring is not going to be [the Rockets] issue.  The issue is turnovers and, to me, an every night defensive presence.  Because if they get that they are a balanced team and balanced teams win.  This is a team that can win a championship.”

The turnovers for the Rockets have been an issue all season and Van Gundy thinks with the amount of scoring the team can do, the newest Rockets star, Dwight Howard, doesn’t need to worry about scoring.  He needs to worry about keeping possession of the ball.

“I just don’t think [Howard] has to be the guy,” the coach told In The Loop about Howard’s scoring numbers. “The one thing that concerns me at times is when you put he and [James] Harden’s turnovers together, they are too high.”

Van Gundy also talked to Nick and Lopez about how he would love to coach Harden, but he worries about him doing the right things as a leader for this team.

“[Harden]‘s a great great player, but to win it all your best players have to set the right tone,” Van Gundy said. “Your best players have to be committed on the defensive end on the floor.   You’re not going to beat the Miami Heat and LeBron James in a series if your best players don’t have the same will to play both ends.”

“If you’re not committed at that end of the floor and it starts with your best players then you don’t have a chance to win it all.”

“It’s not really critisim of James Harden.  It’s what is the next step if you’re going to win it all.  And I think Harden knows this.  I think Harden knows his importance.  I think he knows the importance of defense.”

The question then becomes if the Harden and Howard have the ability to take themselves and the rest of the Rockets team to the next level.  Van Gundy believes it starts with those two.

“Everything in this league starts with your best players,” Van Gundy said.  “Their attitude, their unselfishness, their commitment to do all the things to win.  Does Harden and Howard, do they have a burden? Absolutely.  If they want to win [a championship] that’s their burden.  That’s what best players have to deal with.  That’s why it’s hard to find guys that are talented enough and committed enough from a best player stand point to win it.  The Rockets have it.  The Rockets have two guys that can be the best player on a championship level team.  So, yeah, they [have] to play defense.   And I don’t think that should be looked upon as some burden.  This is what you need to do to win it and I think Harden will be up to the challenge.  I think when [Harden] is committed he can not only be a good defender he can be an outstanding defender.”

The Rockets get a chance Tuesday night to show they are championship contenders when they host the back-to-back defending champion Miami Heat at the Toyota Center.

Van Gundy thinks the Rockets will win the match-up against the top team in the East.

“I would be shocked today if the Rockets didn’t beat [the Heat],” Van Gundy said.  “No one scores any easier than the Rockets.”

“I think Howard’s presence is such an improvement.  Not offensively.  Whatever he gets offensively, to me, is a bonus.  I think defensively and and rebounding he’s the type of guy who can challenge at the rim and he still has the athelticsim to get back up on a second jump and defensive rebound.”

The Rockets tip off at the Toyota Center at 7:00pm against the Heat.  The game is on CSN Houston.

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