It's been a long time since I've been able to write something positive about the Houston Rockets. It's not that I haven't wanted to. Believe me, when it comes to Houston teams, the Rockets are my literal first love. I moved to Houston in October of 1994, the first month of their jagged journey to a second NBA title. So generally, when I think of the Rockets, I think good thoughts.
And when a team returns most of its core nucleus of a Western Conference finalist, you expect to be able to transition easily into the next season of flowery words, celebrating all the little wins along the way. This, however, has been problematic in 2015-16. It started with very few little wins, or even wins at all. The coach got fired. Then, just when it appeared the clouds had broken on Christmas Day with a victory over the Spurs, the Rockets went and squandered a 41-point first quarter the next night in a loss at New Orleans.
Needless to say, it's been four weeks of schizophrenia since then, and up until last Friday against Milwaukee, the Rockets had just been piddling along at .500 since that New Orleans game, and .500 overall, an exasperatingly average basketball team. In the Wednesday night game against Detroit before that game with the Bucks, Dwight Howard twisted an ankle pretty severely, so expectations weren't high that things would get better anytime soon, what with Dwight playing the best basketball of his Rockets' career and the team still hovering around .500.
It was on that Friday then that things got weird. The one core 2014-15 piece that was not brought back this season was forward Josh Smith, who decided of his own volition to sign with the very Clippers team he helped vanquish last May. Well, as has happened with Smith before, things didn't work out in L.A., so the Clippers traded him (along with cash and the rights to something called a "Sergei Lishouk") to the Rockets for the rights to Marty Leunen. Yes, Josh Smith, the venerable J-Smoov, was once again a Rocket.
Suffice it to say, it's only gotten weirder since Smith returned. The same guy who was reportedly screaming at coaches while he languished on the bench in DNP-land as a Clipper became a difference maker once again with his passing, his rebounding and his energy. The Rockets won that game against the Bucks on Friday, then came back from being down double digits to the Mavericks on Sunday to win that game behind 16 from Smith. Monday night, the Rockets went into that same arena in New Orleans that turned us all into scalded dogs the day after Christmas and eked out a 112-111 win over the Pelicans. Smith was 2-11 shooting the ball, but still gave the big-starved Rockets a solid 28 minutes of floor time.
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I'll be honest, it's felt a little like Boogie Nights, when Dirk Diggler voluntarily quits Jack Horner's porn squad, tries his hand at singing and winds up skulking back to Horner after a botched drug deal in the Hills. The same way Dirk Diggler couldn't escape his destiny as a porn star, Josh Smith couldn't escape his destiny as the enigmatic x-factor for the Houston Rockets. It's the EXACT SAME THING.
So it's been a 3-0 run since that loss to Detroit, and all of it with Dwight Howard nursing the sprained ankle. Success without Dwight, Josh Smith providing a boost, Trevor Ariza shooting lights out, and James Harden putting up triple doubles. It's starting to at least slightly resemble last season again.
It's progress, and for now, we'll take it. It's been awhile.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 7 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.