For Houston basketball fans the current center of the universe is the Rockets v. Thunder playoff series. And yes, that's important. But Rockets fans should also know:
The Houston Rockets D-League affiliate, the Rio Grande Vipers, is one win away from their second title in four years.
Even better, the Vipers are yet to lose a playoff game with a sterling 5 - 0 record. This is the Vipers third trip to the finals in four years.
The series is a best of three and the Vipers took game one against the Santa Cruz Warriors in California on Thursday behind a big game from Glen Rice Jr.: 33p/10r/3s/4b.
The series now goes to Hidalgo, Texas, for the remaining two contests. It seems unlikely the Warriors will be able to find back-to-back wins in Texas.
The road to the finals has been up and down for the Vipers. The team has experienced injuries and call-ups: Donatas Motiejunas, Terrence Jones, Greg Smith, Patrick Beverley, Andrew Goudelock, Tim Ohlbrecht & Scott Machado.
Yes, that Andrew Goudelock. The guy who scored 20 points for the Lakers last night in their loss to the Spurs. Goudelock spent most of the NBA season with the Rio Grande Vipers.
The Vipers surrendered Goudelock to the Lakers, their best player and 2013 NBADL League MVP, after a single playoff game.
Fear not. Despite the loss of the league MVP, the Vipers immediately began to get enormous contributions from D.J. Kennedy who arguably deserves playoffs MVP.
Kennedy posted a triple double in the clinching game of the semi-finals and is posted some eye catching per-game averages.
Note: The Rio Grande Vipers is the Houston Rockets D-League affiliate. Unlike Major League Baseball, this does not mean the players on the team are affiliated with the Rockets. The only players on the Vipers under contract with the Houston Rockets are center Tim Ohlbrecht and forward Royce White. The only Santa Cruz Warriors player under contract with an NBA team is guard Scott Machado.
Players To Know:
Nick Nurse -- The 2010 - 2011 NBADL coach of the league, Nurse has driven the Vipers since 2011 after four years with the Iowa Energy. Nurse has faced injuries and call-ups all season, including the loss of NBADL MVP Andrew Goudelock during the league playoffs after an injury to "well known big leaguer Kobe Bean Bryant." To add a student vs. teacher twist to the series, Santa Cruz head coach Nate Bjorkgren served as an assistant to Nurse during his four years in Iowa.
Glen Rice Jr. -- 25p/8.8r/4.2a/1.8s/1.8b Playoffs Per Game -- Yes, he's the son of NBA All-Star Game MVP Glen Rice. He also averages 25 points and 8.8 rebounds in the playoffs. Rice didn't see the court much at the start of the NBADL season, but he's made the most of the last two months of his court time. Rice has routinely been the best non-NBA scoring threat for the Vipers. He rests right on the verge of being a bench player in the NBA and still has the upside of being only 22.
D.J. Kennedy -- 20.2p/9.8r/6a/2s -- An unaffiliated veteran of the Cavs, Kennedy is serving up a hell of a performance in the NBADL playoffs with his near triple double averages. As previously stated, the Vipers lost Andrew Goudelock to the Lakers and D.J. Kennedy has filled the void. Here's the highlights from his playoff triple double against Tulsa:
Follow D.J. Kennedy on Twitter here.
Chris Daniels -- 12.6p/7.2r/1.4b Playoffs Per Game -- Daniels is a center who fights in the lane on D, but loves to stray to the three point line on O. The seven footer from Texas A&M Corpus Christi shipped out to China after a respectable performance at the 2012 Summer League. There he paired up with Tracy McGrady for the Qingdao Eagles. It wasn't Daniels' first trip overseas, after going undrafted he spent four seasons in Korea where he won two titles. Daniels has not seen NBA action.
Tim Ohlbrecht -- 10.8p/7.4r/1b Playoffs Per Game -- Yes, the seven foot German is being out rebounded by Glen Rice Jr., but Ohlbrecht is only playing 24.6 minutes a game while splitting time with Chris Daniels. Ohlbrecht spent a few weeks with the Rockets in the dog days of the NBA season and failed to contribute. He did succeed at temporarily relieving Aaron Brooks of the "last man off the bench" title. So he's got that going for him.
Full disclosure: Your author saw Ohlbrecht play in person in Portland, Maine, this year and was not a fan. I was then astounded to check the box score on my phone and see he scored in double digits.
Jeremy Tyler -- 21.4p/7.4r/1.4s/1b Playoffs Per Game -- This Golden State Warriors veteran was slowed in game one due to foul trouble after averaging nearly a point a minute in his first two playoffs series. He's a big man who has made an NBADL living with his size and strength. If the Warriors take Game 2, Tyler will be a huge part of it and Daniels/Ohlbrecht will be at fault.
Scott Machado -- 16pt in Game 1 -- Undrafted in 2012 after leading the NCAA in assists. Machado should be a familiar name. He played in six games for the Rockets this season after impressing Daryl Morey on the Houston Summer League team and the Rio Grand Vipers. The Rockets waived Machado in January. The Vipers then claimed him (a move unaffiliated with the Rockets) and traded him to the Santa Cruz Warriors. Subsequently the Golden State Warriors signed Machado. This season he played 6 games for Houston and none for Golden State.
Hilton Armstrong -- 10p/5.4r/1.4s/2.4b Playoffs Per Game -- After squeezing his way in as a 2006 lottery pick Armstrong has failed to find consistent run in his 277 NBA games. He's been on six teams (including the Rockets) and found a career as the sixth guy in a trade to make the money work. Armstrong's defensive contributions supersede his offensive ones, but there's little to complain about when you see his averages. Armstrong is playing for another NBA contract, but I'd bet he's more likely to find his way back to pro leagues in Greece or France.
Taylor Griffin -- Non-Factor -- The "low-flying" brother of Blake Griffin is worth watching if you're a fan of NBA culture. Don't expect him to make a difference in this series. He's averaging only 6.4 points in 22.4 minutes during the NBADL playoffs.
Game time is 7 p.m. (Central) tonight. Watch the game on CBS Sports Network.
Read more at the SB Nation's D-League blog: Ridiculous Upside