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The Houston Rockets: Goodness Greatness

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Prior to Tuesday night’s game against the Celtics, the Rockets’ 3-0 start had many fans filled with what Alan Greenspan might call “irrational exuberance.” So after four games, what do we really know about the ‘08-‘09 Rockets?

The preliminary analysis for me says that they are a very good team right now, but are a ways to go before they are great. A team can be judged as “good” or “great” by certain objective measures beyond overall wins and losses. The Rockets do everything that good teams do, and some of the things that great teams do.

Good teams win the majority of their home games. They also beat the teams they are supposed beat, at home or on the road. Good teams impose their defensive will on inferior teams. And good teams have an innate killer instinct, an ability to capitalize when the other team is in trouble. The Rockets have won the games they should win, and have shown a real mean streak, too. In each of the first four games, the Rockets went on a lengthy run at some point, playing stifling defense and scoring at will. Against the Mavericks, it came at the end of the game; against the Celtics, it came in the second quarter. During those stretches, you could see that they were doing everything they could to overwhelm their opponent into submission.

Great teams, of course, win all the games they are supposed to and, in particular, rise to the occasion when playing other good to great teams. But beyond that, great teams have no fear of any opponent. When they lose, they shrug it off because they just know they will win the next day. In tight games they don’t panic, they just sharpen their focus and keep on playing.

Great teams also impose their offensive and defensive will on the opponent. The key difference Tuesday night was that the Celtics were able to execute their first and second offensive options down the stretch in the face of stout defense by the Rockets. By contrast, the Rockets could not run their offense effectively or efficiently in crunch time (in the face of stout defense by the Celtics).

The Rockets as constructed are going to struggle defensively with teams as offensively sound as the Celtics; that is what it is. But if they develop more chemistry and start to impose their offensive will on people, count me as one of those irrationally exuberant fans.

Food for thought: Since he bought the team in 1994, Les Alexander has approved the acquisitions of: Clyde Drexler, Charles Barkley, Scottie Pippen, Steve Francis (as the no. 2 pick in the draft), Eddie Griffin (who knew?), Yao Ming, Tracy McGrady, and now Ron Artest. How much time does the Yao-McGrady-Artest core have before Les goes for another blockbuster deal? Is the window opening or closing on this team?

-- Sesha Kalapatapu

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