This heartbreaking loss for the Rockets was the most encouraging game of the young season. Moral victories may not exist, not really, but this is about as close as it’s possible to get. Despite falling back under .500, the Rockets looked like a viable NBA team. They took an admittedly tired world champion Miami Heat team to the very edge, and came about as close to winning as you can get. If LeBron wasn’t head and shoulders the best player in the world, and if the last two Rockets plays weren’t unmitigated disasters, they could have done it.
Those last two plays need some examination. If this had happened in a playoff game, those two plays would have etched themselves into the waking nightmares of Rockets fans for years. The first play was executed well, with the Rockets using good corner-and-back ball movement to pull two defenders away from Lin, who was wide open behind the arc with a chance to hit a game-winning shot. He failed to hit any part of the basket. If this was his only airball of the night, it could be chalked up to a fluke, or at least nerves. Unfortunately, he shot a three earlier in the game that was so far past the hoop that the announcers and myself actually wondered for a moment if it was a pass to Asik.
Because of almost two decades of failed franchise moves, mangled body parts, and semi-self-imposed irrelevance, forgive the Rockets faithful if their reaction to the first week of the 2012-13 season seemed more supernatural phenomena than pleasant surprise. As the folk tales of the new freak talent with the big contract and bigger beard spread throughout town, the conversation took on hushed tones in its reverence for and distrust of this coming era of good feelings, the crowds too used to the lean years to cheer too loudly again. Things changed, unspoken hopes deflated a bit, and now Rockets followers likely find themselves in the same head space with which they entered the season: excited but confused about the prospects of this peculiarly built .500 team. That wariness— the kind very reasonably clung to by people who just can’t stomach one more ninth-place-in-the-West finish— might prevail as the prominent state of those devoted to the red and yellow this year, but everyone involved must remember the new stakes, that this teams stands for more than the fifteen men on its roster, more than even the city of Houston itself: this is a team of change. [read more…]
After a morale boosting but not particularly notable win against the Detroit Pistons, Houston face the most daunting task of their young season – a match up with last year’s champions, the Miami Heat. The Rockets do have a couple of minor advantages up their sleeve – the Heat are flying in from taking a beatdown from the Grizzlies last night, and two of their big three are not at 100% right now. LeBron banged his knee while playing against the Hawks on Friday, and is quoted as saying that if the Grizzlies game had been on Saturday he might not have played. Wade, meanwhile, played through illness last night and was noticeably less effective than usual, shooting only 3-15 from the floor. On the flipside though, Houston continue to be without their coach, as McHale’s leave of absence due to a family illness continues. We wish him and his family all the best.
Under Coach Spoelstra, the Heat have become more and more adventurous with the small ball concept. In his third season, that has reached it’s natural conclusion – Miami has ditched its need for a traditional centre and now plays a lot of lineups with Bosh as a stretch 5. Their starting lineup of Chalmers/Wade/Battier/James/ Bosh exemplifies this. Off the bench they will bring in Norris Cole to run the point, Ray Allen and Mike Miller to shoot threes, Rashard Lewis if they want to spread the floor and Udonis Haslem if they need some inside presence. Notice that none of these guys are traditional centres either. It remains to be seen if Spoelstra will modify his rotation to take into account the back-to-back and the ailments bothering his stars (although LeBron looked fine last night so that’s probably slightly overblown), but he’s got plenty of pieces to plug into his a-positional scheme.
Unarguably the most curious development of this young season had been, up to this point, the conspicuous absence of Houston’s heralded rookies from the lineup. After being featured heavily during the preseason, and after having turned in stellar summer camp performances, the trio of Donatas Motiejunas, Terrence Jones, and Royce White hadn’t seen a single minute all year. Today, with assistant coach Kelvin Sampson acting in place of Kevin McHale (on leave of absence for the illness of his daughter), that changed.
Donatas Motiejunas saw five minutes of garbage time action, scoring three points and earning a trip to the line in that frame. Upon checking in, he immediately went to the post, attacking his man with a quick fake-and-go, drawing the foul. It’s a move we had seen him use a lot during the preseason. After the video you see above, off-camera, I asked D-Mo specifically about that move.
Tonight was an evening of good news and bad news. The good news was that the Rockets got me a great birthday present: their first blowout of the season. The bad news was that Coach McHale has taken an indefinite leave of absence due to the illness of his daughter. His departure will not only leave a hole at the top of the Rockets’ leadership, but more importantly is a trying and difficult time for him, his daughter and their family. There’s no doubt that the entire Rockets team, fanbase and community wishes her a swift return to health.
At least one piece of stress was lifted from McHale’s plate tonight: the Rockets won fairly convincingly tonight, for the first time in this season. The dark cloud at the edge of this sunrise is that the Pistons are proving to be among the worst teams this season in every metric. At this point, anything less than a blowout team would have been a bit of a black eye for the Rockets. The overarching narrative of youth mistakes tapered slightly, but was still present. The Rockets looked like a .500 team, and the Pistons looked like a 15th seed team. For once, this season, things made sense.