Let's be honest: the Western Conference is absolutely brutal, and although with the right circumstances things could still fall the Houston Rockets' way and land us in the Finals, the odds of hoisting a trophy in June are slim at best. So, before our likely inevitable heart-breaking playoff run comes and goes, let's take a look at some of the things that make the latest installment of the Houston Moreys unique and exciting.
Somewhere in the middle of my four-month long hiatus from Rockets writing, I began to outline an article about how the boys in red were truly unrealistic championship contenders. I thought of how they'll struggle to defend opposing point guards, how Dwight Howard would continue his reign of terror when it comes to not defending jump shots (like, at all; somebody has to give that dude some crap because he literally just takes a step at the shooter and stops), how they don't have a second guy who can create his own shot off the bounce and the unprecedented level of talent that the Western Conference is flaunting this season (not to mention who we'd see if we were to make it out of the West; yeah, James Jones and Co.).
The more I thought about it, the more depressed I got. So, today, let's take a look at all the good things we see from this Rockets team, forgetting completely about our desperation to draw the Dallas Mavericks in the first round (therefore dodging the Los Angeles Clippers and San Antonio Spurs). Instead, let's focus on the positives from a team that's overachieved despite a constant string of injuries to everyone not named James and Trevor, and Chef Morey's specialty of scrambled bodies served hot off the bench.
Here are some singular acts of beauty that we get to witness on a nightly basis:
- Watching Josh Smith amazingly beat someone off the bounce with only a left-handed dribble above his waist and then hold a hopeless, rotating cross-court defender captive before whipping a Pedro Alvarez fastball (a fast that you always think has a chance to end up in the fourth row) to the weak-side wing, tricking the off-side defender into thinking that ball is going to the ever-powerful corner. It's easier to appreciate when the shot goes in... and when the pass stays on the court.
- Watching James Harden, in the midst of a hot streak, create enough space at the end of a quarter to shoot a circle-area 3. At this point, the scouting reports have caught up to him and every defender knows he's trying to shoot that long ball on the last possession of the quarter, but it's almost like Harden sees it as a challenge, rocking his defender back and forth with a mixture of flow and trickery before finally taking a hard dribble left, planting his left foot in front of his right, dropping the ball between the back of his leg and hopping back behind that curved line, hands ready to shoot just as his feet set up shop. He's made enough of those this year that even if he doesn't shoot it with enough efficiency to make it worth taking on all those end-of-quarter possessions, that it's worth doing every time he's hot. And don't worry, he's not going to stop.
- Watching Corey Brewer turn a 2-on-3 disadvantage into a 3-on-2 fast break, blowing by some jock-grabbing, second-string wing, with his toothpick legs looking like they're ready to go all Shaun Livingston on us with every step, making a sharp 45 degree turn at foul-line extended and receiving a perfectly timed pass from Harden to sneak away with two points. Early offense is pretty, but Brewer likes to score before the shot clock gets into the teens, which isn't something you see everyday in the NBA. When Mike D'Antoni watches these things he slips his hand down his pants.
- Watching D-Mo, with a perfectly-spaced four-out, one-in look, catch in the post with a hapless defender square on his back, looking to jump the shoulder that shows first movement. Then, watching D-Mo do some old-school combination of head jerks, shoulder twists and pivots to get the defender looking like Shawn Bradley trying to D up Muggsy Bogues, before finally dropping a little left-hand push shot through the net.
- Watching Jason Terry enjoy what is going to be one of his last seasons in the sun with a self-awareness that is both astonishing and refreshing. Watching The Jet do his airplane act with the look of naivety and absolute excitement after hitting a shot he's made 1,000 times before, sucking in the sunshine before before the sun sets and he becomes a broadcaster who's very involved in his church (I don't say that with any negative connotation; he's got personality and he's definitely down with the lord. I can just tell).
- Watching Joey Dorsey commit such blatant fouls and complaining to the refs. It's not funny because it was so blatant; it's funny because he truly doesn't understand what he did wrong.
- Watching Trevor Ariza stick his head into any on-court argument, muttering lip-reading magic for the fans at home in the direction of the perpetrator.
- Watching Dwight Howard protect the lane after he's be gone for a while, covering up defensive mistake after defensive mistake, swatting shots way farther than he really needs to (and doing his best to cover up his goofy smile because he knows he's supposed to be acting serious afterwards) and committing fouls he could have easily avoided.
- Watching Clint Capela and Nick Johnson step on the floor and thinking "these guys might actually turn into something," like we did with Cuttino Mobley, Carl Landry, Chase Budinger, Chandler Parsons, D-Mo and Patrick Beverley in the past. You kind of expect top-15 guys to pan out, but Houston has been snatching up ballers in the second round like the Sixers snatch up draft picks.
Even with a postseason outlook that -- like many other teams -- will be shadowed by our collective prayers that the chips fall our way, there are still things to be thankful for.
For a second, let's forget about the postseason that we've been looking forward to all year and remember that, given all of Houston's injuries, they should probably be clawing with the Mavs for the seventh seed or worse.
Just for now, let's forget about the fact that Harden may be a career playoff choke artist (as much as it pains me to say it -- let's hope the all-around strides he's made this year will cover up for the fact that he stops getting calls in the postseason) and remember that this guy is the NBA's MVP this year (whether he wins it or not, he certainly is).
So, if it all falls apart, and the playoffs turn into another disappointment, remember the good things. Only one team wins every year, but even a devoted Knick fan will look back at this season and say two things (in this order): "Well, it got us Okafor" and "that was one hell of a game they played to beat the Spurs that one night." If they can do it, the fans of a 55-win team can do the same.
And honestly, why wouldn't you? If you're spending significant time watching a bunch of grown men play a game for millions of dollars, why not appreciate the details?