Despite Michael’s understandably dour take on things, Tuesday’s loss to the Los Angeles Lakers had to bring smiles to Rockets fans, at least for three quarters. Regardless of the not-so-sudden realization that the Rockets, along with almost every NBA team, have no answer for a skilled 7-footer with length and strength to spare or that fella named Kobe Bryant, Houston embroiled itself in a very even-footed struggle with a team still capable of dismembering squads that have no business sharing a court with it. Some of the Lakers’ greatest weaknesses remain some of Houston’s best attributes: dominant point guard, depth, perimeter shooting; that might give any viewer pause that wants to credit the Rockets too much for their ability to hang with the former champs, but that’s not what those unadorned in Rocket red got out of this. They just got to watch one helluva game.
What is a sadder realization than knowing that you’d love something more if you just didn’t know it so well? The moment a lover’s quirks turn into his or her frustrating habits, the one when a once beloved job’s duties become its unending tedium, that first time the usual at your favorite restaurant just tastes too damn usual— unfortunately, that’s exactly where I find myself with these Houston Rockets. Their game-to-game development into something worthy of attention, if not quite admiration, stands out as something that a follower should be proud of, at least up until the moment he or she remembers exactly how much mediocrity all of that “development” ensures for the team’s future. Where the outside fan can marvel at Kyle Lowry’s improved jumpshot and ability to finely thread passes through the tightest of passing lanes to hit a charging Luis Scola or Samuel Dalembert, all I can do is wish for more, ever the petulant ingrate. What if he shot like Eric Gordon or passed like Ricky Rubio? What if Patrick Patterson and Jordan Hill could combine their skill sets and become even the brokest man’s Amar’e? When cheering for almost pretty good, the viewer only gets an amuse-bouche for greatness, never the fulfillment of an entrée.
Now I might be (or definitely am) another greedy Rockets fan trumpeting the horn for immediate misery in hopes for future ecstasy, but this flirting-with-good-business has left me and a host of other Rockets heads left in a perpetual purgatory, while other onlookers get to see Houston for the rollicking barrel of excitement that its offense really is. For them, Lowry’s growth represents just that, not a failure to be something that never reasonably could have been expected of him. Scola and Kevin Martin, suddenly anchors dragging the Rockets down to the lowly territory of the winning, look like the competent craftsmen they are, established professionals working within the framework of the low post and open jumper, respectively. Jordan Hill’s jump toward respectability at defense? The mercurial Nash-isms of Goran Dragic? Every single thing about Terrence Williams? All of these random strangers are getting to enjoy the fruits of the team I cover, the team I’ve kept my eye on since I can remember having eyes, all because these bystanders have nothing invested in the team rather than a rooting interest in the game and teams that play it interestingly, that play it well.
What has become of us viewers if we cannot appreciate that? The Rockets, if nothing else, remain a League Pass staple for those who like to see a team actively push and struggle to win nightly and brew up some fun doing it. Crisp perimeter passing and unprecedented angles for scoop shots make the nights of most fans surveying the daily NBA landscape, so Houston’s status as “everyone’s fifth favorite team” (I’m realistic about the space the Rockets occupy in the minds of even the most devoted hoops junkies) works perfectly, especially for a team so used to being the unofficial squad for the world’s biggest country. This seems like a reputation worth embracing, something the Golden State Warriors and Phoenix Suns have at times in the past, because the ones who win aren’t always the ones people like, and there has to be a place for the lovable loser.
Well, the night’s other big contest, the Iowa presidential caucuses, produced a winner in Mitt Romney that plenty of those that wish him well don’t even particularly like, other than for one reason: he can win. He didn’t always seem like the most enchanting option to those ready to elect him, but it didn’t matter if he could get the job done. So forgive us unappreciative suckers who can’t even find a heartwarming, captivating team for which to cheer even if its underneath our noses; we’re too busy trying to figure out how to turn all of this excitement into some plodding, monotonous winning.