We’re now just an hour away from tip-off of Game 1. After tonight, our expectations and perceptions will be polluted by the emotions of whatever is about to take place. Thus, it’s important now to reflect with clear minds.
What’s at stake and what do we hope to see?
To begin, only one, maybe two individuals involved with the Houston Rockets organization have anything at stake in this series. The team, in even making the playoffs this year, overachieved beyond anyone’s wildest expectations. Even if they lose 4-0 by an average of 20 points per game, perception will not change. They are on the rise and ahead of schedule. Daryl Morey, regardless of the outcome, should unanimously claim Executive of the Year honors for his job in assembling this team. While he won’t win the award, Kevin McHale should at least be mentioned in the discussion for Coach of the Year for the job he did in getting this young group to buy into the system and come together.
Greg Smith, Terrence Jones, and Donatas Motiejunas have nothing at stake. No one is expecting any of the three to provide anything. Patrick Beverley also has nothing at stake – because he played such a huge role on this team, we quickly forget that he too is a rookie. Chandler Parsons, Omer Asik, and Carlos Delfino also have nothing at stake. No one will think any less of them if they lay eggs.
While it shouldn’t be the case, there’s a chance the perception of Lin could change after this series. Recall that this is really the first time he’ll be back on the national scene after leaving New York and the spotlight of Linsanity. Many [bitter New Yorkers] felt that he was not worth the contract he signed – he’ll certainly be under the microscope. If Lin is completely outclassed by Russell Westbrook, those critics will feel justified in their stance.
James Harden is really the only Rocket who without a doubt has something on the line. Did the Thunder make a mistake? So far, they haven’t missed a beat but that question will only be answered in the postseason. If he can even put a scare into Oklahoma City, he will cement himself as one of the game’s best players. (ESPN ranked him 7th in the league, behind Westbrook.)
What are we looking for? I’m not quite sure some realize just how greatly the odds are against this Rockets team. In the sole win against the Thunder, the Rockets needed everything to go right, overcoming a 12 point deficit in the second half of the 4th quarter just to eke out a 3 point win. Those aren’t circumstances with high odds for duplication. In the two losses, the Rockets were blown out.
There’s really nothing I’m looking for. I won’t even be upset if the team runs ISOball if there’s a close game – that adjustment can only come after a full training camp. All I hope is that they learn from this experience. I hope that Parsons and Lin, and the rookie forwards too, learn what it takes to compete in the playoffs. I hope Harden sees how much he needs to improve now that he is the focal point of his team. And I hope McHale learns what does and doesn’t work about our system and scheme. We won’t know if any of these desires come to fruition until next season. For now, we can just sit back and enjoy.