It's getting harder to write recaps, and I apologize for that. I think I'd only be telling our faithful readers something they already know all too well, and any new readers can see it with their own eyes easily enough. I'll just say that many tediously familiar patterns repeated themselves in Minnesota and Detroit, including the well-worn theme of the tougher team on the second night of a B2B.
The Rockets are running out of season, and look to really be a .500 team right now. The early promise of 2009-2010 has been ground down by the toll of max-effort play, an honestly ( and truly) absurd schedule, the difficulty of adding 4 new pieces at the trade deadline, and that beloved Rocket staple, injuries.
Over the last 11 games we've gotten to see just how much Kyle Lowry, and Trevor Ariza mean to this team. Lowry's contribution in particular seems crucial to winning basketball. It's nice to read that everyone has missed everyone - Lowry the Rockets and the Rockets, Lowry. Don't think the price tag for Lowry (and Scola) isn't going up, either.
Trevor Ariza has been missed as well. There have been times where the Rockets have needed a stop, a basket, maybe a steal, and neither Lowry nor Ariza has been around to get it for us. Battier has played insanely good D, Hayes has been Hayes, and Jeffries looks to be a fine defender as well, but it hasn't been enough. Possibly because there's been no one to slow down quick backcourt players. Brooks and Martin have many virtues, being prime defenders isn't among them.
Our inability to close down an opponent, has made the generally good offensive contributions of Kevin Martin, Aaron Brooks and Luis Scola less meaningful. To win right now the Rockets basically have to demolish their opponents with an offensive barrage. Raise your hand if you thought this season would go that way.
But guess what? It's not quite over yet. 20 games remain, and neither Portland nor San Antonio is out of reach for the last playoff spot. San Antonio looks to have lost Parker for the rest of the regular season and Portland double-lost Przybilla to his second consecutive patella tendon injury (albeit in the shower - poor guy can't buy a break). Also they are still missing Camby. The 8th seed might not even play the Lakers, who, when presented with an NBA-level stretch of tough road games, wilted like a pansy in a Texas August.
>>>So! Welcome to the NBA LA! That's the schedule (almost) everyone else plays. Yes, yes, LA had a long stretch of road games to counterbalance the fact that they didn't leave LA for 8 weeks to start the year. That earlier road stretch was against: the Washington Generals, the Bad News Bears, the Sacramento Monarchs, The Flint Tropics, Yates High (a close game), Athletes in Action, The Dakota Skyforce, and Hickory High. Who wasn't impressed by that? The three teams that just beat them, apparently.<<<
Pardon the digression. A little Laker-bashing always cheers me up. Dallas, at any rate, is making a strong play for the #1 seed and has been almost unstoppable lately.
Anyhow, the Rockets are not eliminated, and we look to get Lowry and Ariza back very soon. We've added Martin, we've added height, we've added a guy who looks like he might, after all, have been worthy of a top 10 pick in Jordan Hill (working with CD and Sikma does wonders for front-court players it seems - I can't wait to see his game next year).
Some of you might be asking, "Why would we want to sneak into the playoffs as an 8th seed?" I can give five reasons for that.
1. It's fun. You never know what might happen in a series. We could win a couple of games, or a series, and that's never a bad thing. The eventual NBA champ Lakers lost to a painfully undermanned Rockets team nearly as many times as they lost to all their other playoff opponents combined. This team is arguably better than that one. While I don't think LA is scared of anyone, I have a feeling they'd rather not play Houston again.
2. It's better for our self-esteem and our future. Seriously, making the playoffs is better than otherwise for a young team - the more playoff tested our young roster becomes, the more likely it is we will advance in a future playoff series. That's the conventional wisdom anyway, but I don't see much wrong with the theory. I certainly do not see exposure to a playoff basketball atmosphere hurting our team.
3. Money. Let me say that again, MONEY. Being in the playoffs brings some very lucrative games to the Rockets. That's income you simply don't get if you stay home. Winning a first round series brings even more. Don't think this doesn't matter. If management can stock the coffers a bit more this year, it means that much more to spend next year. And we're going to have to spend money on Scola and Lowry for sure.
4. The odds of a .500 team getting a top 3 pick are really low. The (statistically likely) pick we get for the 8th seed wouldn't be that much worse (again with typical odds) than the one we'd get for not making the playoffs.
5. Money. It's worth saying thrice.