There’s excitement in Houston once more outside the National Football League and the Rockets who are playing sensational basketball have supplied that.
The Rockets have always been the hard-luck team even if they seem to draw a franchise center more than anyone outside the Los Angeles Lakers.
Moses Malone singe-handedly carried the Rockets of the early 1980s. They booked a finals seat only to be crushed by the Boston Celtics. Malone left and won a title with Philadelphia.
Just when it seemed that all was lost, through the luck of the draft, Houston unveiled the first ever Twin Towers combination in Ralph Sampson and Hakeem Olajuwon. They too made the NBA Finals of 1986 where they once more lost to the Celtics.
Matters changed for them in the mid-1990s when they won back-to-back championships with Olajuwon at the pivot.
The good times looked to roll when they snagged Yao Ming out of China. He was an eight-time NBA All-Star who led his team to the playoffs four times but the problem was Yao was often hurt. That was never more evident than in the 2009 playoffs where Houston bounced Portland in the first round to meet the Los Angeles Lakers in the semifinals. Yao led Houston to victory in the first game but went down with an injury that would ultimately end his career. The Rockets refused to quit and battled the Lakers to a seventh game where they lost.
This season, it looks like the Rockets have changed tactics. Rather than sign up a franchise center, their ballclub is centered around young point guard Jeremy Lin and small forward James Harden who has become the team’s go-to player when they need a basket. Former Chicago Bull back-up center Omer Asik is at the slot and for all his workmanlike play is no Yao, Hakeem or Moses.
And for good measure, they brought in Kevin McHale who routinely beat Houston as a player with Boston. McHale is incidentally the eight coach in team history to not play for the Rockets at anytime during his playing career.
The new season is only a few games underway but I cannot help but notice how the Houston Rockets have turned a lot of heads with their heady and exciting play.
Nineteen players wore the Rockets colors last season and this year only three of them are left in Marcus Morris, Candler Parsons, and Patrick Patterson. While the three are making significant contributions this year, it has been the play of newcomers Lin, Harden, and Asik that has given them life. But it is not enough.
As it was in the game against Portland, the Rockets showed that they are still a player or two away from seriously making noises about competing in the tough Western Conference.
When Harden was shut down, the Rockets struggled to find additional scoring especially down low. Their starters are mostly perimeter players. What happens when they cannot find the range? Against Portland, they scored only 14 points in the shaded lane while missing 15 shots! Asik is averaging 14.3 rebounds but that needs to be translated into gold inside.
In season opener against Detroit, they hit for five baskets inside and missed another five. Against Atlanta, they were 6-15 inside.
Many of those baskets are coming off drives by Harden or Lin with not much from Asik.
Even in the state of Texas, Houston is just third behind unbeaten San Antonio and second-running Dallas. If the Rockets and McHale want the good times to continue, they will need to find some scoring sock and rebounding from the four-spot. Otherwise, it’s going to be another long season because Linsanity and Beardmania will only go a certain way.