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Rockets wilt to Heat 120-113

Culture Comes Up Negative

NBA: Houston Rockets at Miami Heat
A Good Night For VanVleet
Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

The Rockets fell to the Heat 120-113 in a game in which the Rockets always seemed a step behind, with the win just out of reach.

It’s a frustrating loss because it shows that while the Rockets have vastly, hugely, improved on execution since last season, there’s still a gap between them and the Heat.

The Miami Heat are a factory of basketball savvy, overcoming college pedigree, athleticism, perception, and even their own endless self-congratulation. There’s a lot to admire in the way the Heat cleverly turn players others don’t value into a winning basketball team. If you want to know more about that, just ask them, they’re happy to talk about it.

What’s harder to admire about all that is the way they actually play. The actual basketball, as opposed to Miami’s carefully crafted narrative about their basketball.

Some have described it as “trash magic”, or lauded the Heat as some sort of noble product of hard graft. I disagree with both. I see the Heat as a budget airline turned into an NBA team. It’s not pretty, it’s not comfortable, and you know that just like, say, Spirit or Frontier, every advantage they can take, every way they can turn something, anything, like an armrest, an overhead bin, oxygen, eventually, into an advantage, they will.

This includes the most relentless, remorseless, team-wide, culture-instilled grifting effort in the NBA. It has to be taught, it has to be the vaunted Heat Culture, because every single Heat player milks every single action for a potential foul call. Every single Heat player has the techniques down, this is, after all, a team that employs the corpse of Kyle Lowry simply to fall down for whistles. Like the savvy low-end operators they are, no opportunity to cadge a foul call is wasted.

It’s a strategy that exists, like Spirit Airlines, on thin margins of talent, budget, and certainly, customer enjoyment. I suppose it’s all you can do if no one really cares about your team in your home town. Maybe it’s the other way around though? Perhaps it’s because the Heat really are like a low-cost airline - smart, very good at their business, but nothing you’d pay for willingly if you had better options?

Anyway, hats ($10 surcharge) off to the Frontier Airlines of the NBA, Miami Heat. Hopefully the lesson will be learned by the young Rockets, and that the Rockets won’t try something foolishly expensive, like printing a boarding pass at the airport, again. Tonight they certainly outsmarted the Rockets, who never quite found their rhythm outside Fred VanVleet’s good night (32pts/7ast) and Alpie’s “off night” of 22pts/11rbs/2ast/3stl on 9-15 shooting. It’s a sign of incipient stardom that even off nights look pretty damn good.

Miami is a team that plays small, as Bam Adebayo isn’t a huge big, and Kevin Love is the center version of Kyle Lowry, as he now does his best work falling down and looking like a wounded South American soccer player. That means the Rockets really missed their best two perimeter defenders in Dillon Brooks and Tari Eason, who are their best defensive counters to Miami. Losing both at the same time hurts in a game like this one. Maybe they would have made a difference, as I’d fancy the Rockets’ chances more with both teams at full strength.

One interesting note, Miami rookie D’Artagnan (or Doug Henning if you prefer, fine Jaime Jaquez) is older than every one of the key young Rockets, a year and change older than Green, for instance.

Sorry for this, but watching Milwaukee and Miami in a row has sapped my will to watch basketball somewhat. It reminds me that as much as the NBA changes, it doesn’t change all that much, and there’s a stubborn strain of Eastern Conference basketball that insists upon being tedious, unseemly and unlikable.

PS - If Miami isn’t the Spirit Airlines of the NBA, explain their weird obsession and fines regarding size and weight limits?

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