While everyone was cheering on the Texans and fretting about whether or not Jim Crane would go completely nuts and change the Astros to the Craniums, a funny thing was happening at Toyota Center. The Rockets were winning.
They have won their last seven games and are 8-2 in the last ten. During this winning streak, they are scoring 103 points per game while holding opponents to just 94. The charge has been led primarily by the backcourt, with Kevin Martin averaging nearly 24 points and Kyle Lowry continuing his dazzling all-around play with 18 points, 7 rebounds and just under 8 assists per game, including a triple double Monday at Minnesota.
Surprisingly, the team's most recent acquisition, center Samuel Dalembert, has been playing extremely well, scoring 14 points and grabbing nearly 12 rebounds per game while blocking almost 3 shots. He had double doubles in points and rebounds twice during the streak.
There have even been a couple of impressive wins over Portland and San Antonio as well as two wins in overtime. They are headed into four straight at home against some rather mediocre teams (two they've already beaten) and one God-awful Washington club. They should raise their streak to nine games before meeting the spiraling Knicks in what could prove to be an interesting showdown of two completely different kinds of teams with vastly divergent expectations.
But before we all get too giddy, there is some reason for concern.
The Rockets have a subpar 3-6 record on the road and despite the recent winning, they are also 3-6 against assumed Western Conference playoff contenders. There also is a huge dropoff in talent and numbers once you get beyond the top four or five guys, which wouldn't be a problem if any of them were named Kobe or LeBron or Dwight, but they aren't.
If there has been one thing to make fans feel good about the future of the team, it has been the play of Lowry, who has gone from an afterthought trade asset to one of the best point guards in the conference. He's also a guy fans love, with his dogged determination and intensity on the court. He has also made massive improvements to his long-range shooting, going from a sub-.300 shooter beyond the three point line just a couple years back to just under 40 percent this season.
There have been other pleasant surprises for this team including the rapid emergence of rookie Chandler Parsons. Like most rookies, he's been highly inconsistent, but his athleticism has gotten him the nod in the starting lineup over Chase Budinger and more minutes as well. Courtney Lee returned from his calf injury to post good numbers and continues to play tenacious defense, and Goran Dragic has become a very capable back-up point guard.
Still, this team is not dissimilar to Rocket teams in recent years with tough, scrappy players and basically no stars in a league where teams without marquee players rarely contend for a title. It makes for a great story, but very likely a similar middle-of-the-pack outcome. If the Rockets can't make a move for a star player before the trade deadline, they will need to weigh their options in the draft and free agency. Unfortunately, if they keep playing well, their draft position won't be high enough to net a superstar caliber player.
For now, though, the Rockets are a fun team to watch and an easy team to root for, which is saying something.
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