Rockets-Kings: The Art of Adelman

A masterpiece, it wasn’t.

On the fine art scale, the Rockets 108-100 victory over Sacramento rated right alongside those paint-by-number pictures you half-heartedly embraced during your pre-school days. The Rockets did just enough to win, while the Toyota Center faithful saved its loudest moments for the Jumbotron races and free visors. Apparently the fans—at least those of the bandwagon variety—are still suffering from a post-streak malaise as well.

But while the game itself seemed a ho-hum affair, the end result most certainly wasn’t. The win marked the 800th of Rick Adelman’s coaching career, granting him membership into a select group which includes only 12 others. It’s a tremendous accomplishment to be sure; one requiring excellence, longevity and even a little luck.

“I know that when you hit something like that, you really think about all the good things that happen to you,” Adelman said after the game. “I have been really fortunate to have three different teams that are very, very good, and that’s why you get wins like that. You really do appreciate it because a lot of guys in this league never even get a chance to coach one good team.”

Yet while the Rockets certainly qualify as a good team, they’re also one which is tragically flawed. Without Yao Ming’s titanic presence in the middle, easy baskets are hard to come by, and sometimes downright non-existent, as Boston and New Orleans made all too painfully clear last week. But through it all, the Rockets have somehow found a way to survive, and even thrive, within the brutal Western Conference. Sure, their diet of jump shots, putbacks and perseverance probably won’t translate into long life come playoff time, but for the time being at least, their pulse still pounds steady and strong. It’s a testament to the team’s heart, and to the surgeon who keeps it ticking.

“One thing Rick does is he relaxes you and doesn’t make you feel any added pressure,” says Rafer Alston, who has finally gained some hard-earned appreciation from fans while thriving under the tutelage of Adelman. “I think that’s what really helped this ballclub. Rick’s so calm that he understands things happen out there and happen during the course of the season, and he wants you to be relaxed and go out there and play your best.”

Says Tracy McGrady: “One thing I really admire about coach is his rotation, and his ability to put guys out there in the right situations. Young guys, he’s given them the opportunity to go out there and succeed. He’s one hell of a coach. I didn’t know what to expect when they first brought him in, but I think it was a good move. He’s been able to give these young players the confidence that they have when they step out there on that basketball court, and he’s not afraid to throw them out there in difficult situations of a game.”

More than anything, that point figures to be the defining characteristic of Adelman’s coaching prowess this season. Sure, he’s expertly adjusted on the fly while riding the Rockets roller coaster. But he has also managed to coax meaningful contributions from a second round pick (Carl Landry) and a player brought in on a ten-day contract (Mike Harris) along the way. Can you say coach of the year?

“He deserves it,” says Alston. “It’s been a tale of two seasons for us; the way we started this year, and then going on to win 22 in a row and now trying to finish it off on a positive note. I think is says a lot about him being able to weather the storm when we were under .500 and coming back now where we’re 20-something games over.”

Shane Battier goes even further: “It’s really great for us to play for such a great coach, a Hall of Fame coach, really. He’s coached some great teams, and he’s shown that he can win with multiple teams and multiple players and not every coach can do that.”

Coach of the year…Hall of Fame… the NBA’s voting panel will discuss and debate those honors at their proper time and place. For now, the Rockets and their fans should simply find satisfaction in this: While Monday’s win may not have resembled fine art, it still goes down as yet another stroke on a season which may one day be known as Rick Adelman’s masterpiece. – Jason Friedman

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