We’ve seen these Rockets before.
Stagnant movement on offense. Poorly improvised plays with the shot clock winding down. Far too many desperate jump shots. And when the Rockets actually did attack the rim they were often victimized by their own atrocious free throw shooting. Add it all up and you’ve got an equation which nicely sums up the reason Houston found itself atop so many “Most disappointing teams” lists just two months ago.
All the aforementioned horrors the Rockets inflicted upon themselves during Wednesday night’s 83-75 victory over Atlanta only served to shine a spotlight on the biggest difference between the team that started 15-17, and the club now riding the second longest winning streak in NBA history. Namely: Heart, hustle, and a relentless will to win.
You see it in the way they crash the boards. Without Yao Ming, the Rockets are an undersized group with a minimal post presence. So what do they do? Attack the glass like a bunch of Barkleys. Ironic, isn’t it? While the original Chuckster is drawing the ire of Rockets fans for his apparent disrespect of The Streak, Houston’s own Chuck (Hayes) is pulling down rebounds at a rate which must bring a smile to the face of the similarly small-for-his-position Barkley. With Hayes, Luis Scola and Carl Landry (whose presence is being missed more and more by the minute it seems) on the job, the Rockets possess a holy rebounding trinity powerful enough to redeem Houston’s mortal soul for its lust of the outside jumper. Hallelujah.
You see it in the sleepy eyes of Tracy McGrady. That’s right. The same look which has long been perceived as nonchalance now reveals the icy, cold stare of a killer. The man is Dexter; hiding in plain sight, waiting for the precise moment to surgically dissect his next victim. I know, I know. His critics want to see him up the body count during the playoffs. They’d best be careful what they wish for.
Finally, you see it on the bench: Teammates standing as one; desperately urging, willing and imploring their comrades to victory. It’s quite possible they were the only ones standing last night within the desolate domain known as Phillips Arena. But the dreary atmosphere did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of a group reenacting its college years. Is it a coincidence that the two hottest teams in the NBA—Houston and Boston—also possess the best bench vibe? Probably not. Does it mean anything? Only that their teams are playing well and have great chemistry. And at the end of the day, what more could a fan want?
How about this: a nationally televised showdown against Kobe and the Lakers with The Streak on the line, followed by a primetime, heavyweight, who’s the baddest of them all tussle with Boston two nights later.
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It could happen. It’s so close now. Only scrappy Charlotte stands in the way.
Just one more win.
And then we--and everyone else--will discover just how different these Rockets really are.
-- Jason Friedman