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Requiem for an Awesome Season. Really.

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Tracy, Luis, Shane and the gang are now officially in offseason mode. We will hopefully get to see Yao perform in the Olympics in a couple months. Other than that, the Houston Rockets are mostly dormant until next October.

Now that my hangover has mostly subsided, I can properly look back on the 2007/2008 Houston Rockets season for what it was. And the correct answer is "amazing." Yes, the NBA... where amazing happens. Yes, the Rockets lost in the first round again. Yes, it was to Utah again. Yes, I still really, really hate the Utah Jazz. Yes, Tracy McGrady still has to contend with the criticism that he's not a clutch performer (and I'm not straying from that belief myself just yet). None of this defines the '07/'08 Houston Rockets, however.

The team started out 6-1 with a new coach and a new offensive system. (This blog started the next day.)

Immediately thereafter, the team struggled and was below .500 in the insanely competitive Western Conference in mid-December. Most everyone gave up on Houston. Called them "disappointments" and "failures" and I think they even made John Hollinger cry.

Then a great thing happened - this team learned how to play basketball the right way. Yao and Tracy took over, but now they had help from Shane Battier on the defensive end, boosts of energy from Luis Scola and Carl Landry and Aaron Brooks. Rafer Alston even managed to have an out-of-body experience and shoot over 40% from January though March. (Which was even more surprising given how much Rafer sucked in November and December.) McGrady had his annual sabbatical due to "injury" - and again everyone thought the Rockets were done. Yet they started winning. And then continued to win. And then everyone noticed that they weren't just winning, but winning as a team. When McGrady returned to the lineup, he finally bought into the new offensive scheme - and things just took off!

On Tuesday, January 29th, the Houston Rockets beat the Golden State Warriors. The Rockets did not lose again until Tuesday, March 18th. 22 consecutive wins. In a row. This included victories over such playoffs teams as New Orleans, Los Angeles, Denver, Cleveland, Dallas, and Washington.

On February 26th, the Rockets got the news that Yao Ming would miss the rest of the season with a stress fracture in his foot. Again, everyone gave up on Houston. Once again, Houston found new ways to win -- another 10 in a row.

An injury depleted roster finished with 55 wins in the most competitive and cut-throat Western Conference in history. The Rockets even scrambled to have home-court advantage in the playoffs. That was impressive in its own right. Granted, home-court advantage disappeared almost immediately... but I'm going to try to keep a positive outlook on this. I mean, at least I wasn't a Miami Heat fan this year!

The best part is that the Rockets look loaded next year. They are due for a truly healthy Yao/Tracy combination. Scola is going to average 16 and 10 next year. Just watch. Luther Head might get sent packing (he just has to go). Aaron Brooks may be ready to be the full-time backup PG. The draft might bring us an athletic swingman. That's really the only thing the Rockets are missing -- an athletic 2/3 position player who can slash and create his own shot. Gerald Green could have been that player, but he has a 10 cent head. Maybe the Rockets can find the next Kevin Martin or Monta Ellis or someone like that late in the draft this year? I trust Daryl Morey...

and Yao Ming is going to come back angry!

I guess the conclusion is that while it really hurt to be a Rockets fan on Friday night, the long-term outlook is quite bright.

Go Rockets! 2009 is going to kick ass!

edit: Hey, Jason Friedman, stop stealing my headlines!!!