Rockets Roll Kings, Continue Hot Streak Despite Injuries

There are certainly plenty of things to be concerned about with the local professional basketball franchise. They still do not play consistent defense and probably take too many three pointers -- particularly given their mediocre percentage from beyond the arc this year. They feel a bit like a team caught in a transition between what they were -- an undersized, run and gun squad -- and what they hope to eventually be -- a somewhat bigger run and gun squad that can slow it down and play in the half court.

Yet, here they are, just a half game back of the fourth spot in the loaded Western Conference. Were they in the east, they would be one game back of Miami for the second best record in that conference.

They impressively beat Portland, one of the surprise contenders in the west, and then rolled over a Sacramento team that has gotten the best of them earlier in the year. They now face a string of division games that will certainly test them. First up, a home-and-home, back-to-back set of games against Memphis, who is looking better now that Marc Gasol has returned from an injury. Then, after two days off, they go back-to-back again, this time at home for the Spurs and then in Dallas before a stretch of games against decidedly inferior opponents.

With last night's win against the Kings, the Rockets have won six of their last seven and eight of their last 10 games. This despite being without Patrick Beverly and Greg Smith for most of those games, Omer Asik for all of them and, most recently, Terrence Jones for the last two (he expects to return Friday).

But, with no TV deal in place and the city captivated by the massive disaster that is the Houston Texans, the buzz for the team has been low in town. It doesn't help that they can be maddening to watch, a Jeckyll and Hyde team that can drop 73 on a team in the first half and only 19 in the second as they did last week against the Thunder.

Much of their failings can certainly be attributed to youth, if not entirely written off to it. This is the sixth youngest team in the NBA. None of the other top six have winning records. And they are doing this in a Western Conference that has eight of the top 10 records in the NBA.

Coach Kevin McHale has complained recently that they are still struggling with so few bodies available. The injury bug that has plagued the team much of the year seems to have hit them particularly hard in their big men. But Jones should be back Friday and Smith shortly thereafter. No word on Asik's timetable, but that will at least be a full compliment of players both for games and practice time, which is critical for a team that has not played together but for half a season.

I've always thought this team would be better after the All-Star break than before it, but they've been pretty damn good thus far. If they improve after, the Western Conference will have a new legit contender for the crown.

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