How else to describe the Rockets’ run — now 19 games and counting after Monday night’s ridiculously easy 91-73 victory over New Jersey? After all, this is a Houston team which spent the season’s first two and a half months giving absolutely no indication it was capable of reaching such rarified air. Yet now, here it stands, head above the clouds, in virtual lockstep with some of the game’s truly titanic teams.
In so many ways, this streak defies description. Even the club’s silver-tongued spokesman Shane Battier found himself at a loss for words when asked to give meaning to such a Herculean achievement.
“I wish I could wax poetic and give you something really deep,” he said. “But I just don’t have anything for you.”
That’s okay, Shane. Words would never do justice to this particular run, anyway. If you really want to get a glimpse at the — here comes that word again — unfathomable nature of the Rockets’ roll, just ponder this: During one particular five minute stretch in the second quarter last night, Houston threw out a seemingly underwhelming fivesome consisting of Rafer Alston, Luther Head, Chuck Hayes, Shane Battier and Mike Harris — he of the brand spanking new ten-day contract. Put that lineup on the floor in NBA 2K8 for five minutes and you’re probably staring at a double digit deficit in no time. In real life? That unit outscored New Jersey 14-7, nearly doubling the Rockets’ lead in the process. Unfa… never mind, you get the picture.
But seriously, what kind of 19-wins-in-a-row team gives meaningful minutes (20 in all) in the middle of its run to a guy like Harris, who was plying his trade in the Chinese Basketball Association just one week ago?
“We had him all training camp, and he was a guy we really didn’t want to cut,” said coach Rick Adelman. “The coaching staff really liked him. It was just a numbers game and we had to let him go. With this group, we’ve had to change and mix-and-match so much, but as a coach, when guys come in and do it and show you what they can do, you’re not nearly as apprehensive as you would be.”
And so the beat, and the streak, go on. Surprisingly, it has not become a burden, accumulating weight with each win. On the contrary, there is a profound lightness in the Rockets’ locker room these days. Perhaps that’s because this group knows redemption can’t be found in even the most historic regular season run.
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“We’re mature enough as a team to know better than that,” says sharpshooting Steve Novak. “We could finish the regular season 38-0 and it wouldn’t mean a thing if we don’t get it done in the playoffs.”
And therein lies the key: These Rockets are not chasing history, they’re chasing redemption. Redemption for Tracy McGrady and his well-documented first round foibles. Redemption for Rafer Alston, forever labeled the club’s Achilles heel. Redemption for Shane Battier (can someone please get this guy into the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year? Anyone?) whose only crime consists of not being Rudy Gay. And so on, and so on, and so on. Go up and down the Rockets roster and you’ll find the redemption theme everywhere you look. It’s what makes this team — so imperfect on paper — so very perfect for a streak of this magnitude, and, according to its coach, so perfect for dealing with its inevitable conclusion.
“This thing’s going to eventually end somewhere,” says Adelman. “And it’s going to be up to us to keep our toughness so that we’re able to bounce right back. But I have confidence in them because of the way they have approached this.”
The resilient Rockets? There’s absolutely nothing unfathomable about that. – Jason Friedman