A lot has changed since the Rockets last played a second-round playoff game.
The entire Rockets on-floor personnel has changed. Every player, every coach is different from the last team that made the conference semifinals, an outfit of Yao Ming before he went down, Tracy McGrady in street clothes, and the killer combination of Shane Battier, Crazy Pills Ron "Metta World Peace" Artest, Aaron Brooks, Luis Scola, Kyle Lowry and Carl Landry.
These series feels different,
That Rockets team was always hamstrung by injuries, and no one was talking championship while McGrady was dealing his his arthritic knees and shoulders. Past those two, the best athlete was Von Wafer, Artest had the trust of exactly no one, Aaron Brooks couldn't stop Derek Fisher and absolutely no one could create their own shot. I remember declaring victory that the Rockets had taken the eventual champion to seven games without Yao or T-Mac.
It felt like a victory. Anything less than an actual victory in this series will feel a whole lot worse.
Tonight is the first game. I exchanged emails with Clips Nation head honcho Steve Perrin this afternoon, and he expects CP3 to suit up, although there is still no official word. I would be shocked if he doesn't play, simply because he's a great competitor, on-court extra-curriculars aside.
Simply put, this is the biggest Rockets series since 1997. Period. The Rockets have home court advantage. They have never won a playoff series in five games or less and not advanced to the NBA Finals. And yet, somehow, the pressure is more on the other side, at the feet of never-advanced-farther-than-this CP3 and coach/GM Doc Rivers.
We've waited patiently for five, full, Rockets basketball-less days for this game. We wait no longer. 8:30 p.m. CT. TNT. Game time.