Rockets Daily: Thursday, December 23rd, 2010

Analysis and the daily links can be found after the jump. And if you don’t always watch the highlight packages that the fantastic Huay-Bing Law puts together for each game, please make sure to watch and be appalled by this one.

Many have complained a great deal about this incarnation of the Houston Rockets’ ostensible lack of a future, but after last night’s parade of fireworks and explosions and giant flying men, I simply must ask all involved in the grumbling, myself especially, a simple question: are you having fun yet? Houston will no longer provide the kind of consistency that used to evoke swoons from pudgy old columnists, but this collection of misfits and one-dimensional novelties produces some of the most compelling Rockets basketball of recent memory. Because of its lack of any semblance of a real defensive mentality (Chuck Hayes, Shane Battier and Jordan Hill do their best, but three earnest, assiduous men do not a defense make), Houston will make what should be routine blowouts into struggles of late-game execution; on the other hand, the endless supply of talent that lines Rick Adelman’s bench lends itself to catching talented teams off-guard. Basically, the Rockets are always good for a watch, and when playing the freak show that is the Los Angeles Clippers, the game becomes the kind of thing you make sure to have recorded for repeat viewings (so far, I’m at two).

The first quarter dizzied anyone who had the strength of heart to survive it, as the Rockets burst out to a 16-point-lead only to have it revoked by the Greek myths that are Blake Griffin and Deandre Jordan. Every play toward the end of the first period felt as if it would end eight feet above the rim, including a moment where Griffin somehow finished an alley-oop in which he seemed to have to move his head in fear of directly hitting it on the rim, the kind of fear that is usually relegated to pigeons or characters in Space Jam. Griffin’s last name feels ominously appropriate, the man-child a strange meld of majesty, violence and audacity; watching him against the generally ground-based Rockets boggles the mind. Do they even play the same sport? If so, is it legal in this absurd, beautiful sport for two entirely different species to share the court? He never stopped trying in this one, posting a cartoonish 24 and 18 line (the uncanny play of Hayes defending the post caused the rookie to have to use 20 shots to produce those numbers, though), and through his dynamism, along with an impressive showing by Eric Gordon in the fourth quarter (I cannot currently find the stat for it, but I recall reading that he was, at some point, this league’s leading 4th quarter scorer this year, believable given his poise and lack of restraint in shooting despite intense defensive pressure), the Clippers could not be taken out of this game, routinely catching up when the Rockets’ reserves entered the fracas (the impotent Rockets bench went a downright humiliating 8-26 as Griffin stayed in for most of the game, picking apart the mere mortals who ride the pine in Houston). In return, the Houston Rockets’ starters crushed the Clip Show, especially the fiery mass of human that has been Kevin Martin. He smiled and cheesed his way to 28 points on 19 shots, stuffing a few other space on the box score in the process with four boards, four dimes and two takeaways. Along with another automatic 21 point effort from Luis Scola, Martin worked within the offense, curling and showing when necessary. Now almost a year into his run as a Houston Rocket, Martin has made readily apparent where and how he wants the ball, and, for now anyway, he seems to be getting it in those spots and taking advantage of anyone who doesn’t already know the deal.

Go back and watch this one 85,000 times and remember how much fun this game can be, even if neither team shoots or plays particularly well. Revel in Kyle Lowry’s addiction to grabbing the ball. Gawk at Shane Battier’s ability to swat the shots of players 124 times as athletic as he. Keep in mind that, while yes, these are the Clippers, this Los Angeles team is so young that this performance only provides a squinting, furtive glance at what could define the future of this sport. Think about all of it as you snicker about how these lowly teams are a combined 15 games under .500 and ask yourself: are you having fun yet?

Houston Rockets 97, Los Angeles Clippers 92

Box Score


On to the links…

  • After reading it over at Hardwood Paroxysm, I’m a little embarrassed I hadn’t already linked to Zach Harper’s fantastic Yao eulogy (yes, that has officially become a blog type). In it, Harper talks about why his injury may have hurt a little more than Oden, a bit more than Bowie or Sampson, mostly because he was no minor threat: “Yao Ming showed us glimpses of substance, then was too injured to stay on the court, then came back for (in retrospect) one last hurrah. In the 2008-09 season, he played 77 games. And it wasn’t like the experiment of this season in which they limited his minutes and shut him down on back-to-backs. He played 77 games and averaged 33.6 minutes per game that season. And he posed as a big threat to the Lakers’ big title hopes in the second round. I’m not going to sit here and tell you the Rockets win that second round series against the Lakers if Yao his healthy for seven games instead of just the three he played. The series went seven because the Lakers could coast and still come out the victor. But the threat was there and most god-fearing, non-Kobe slurping Laker fans over the age of 17 know this to be true.”
  • While his movies, as important and brilliant as they often can be, are not always of utmost quality and his penchant for talking trash rivals Reggie Miller’s when it comes to the far softer world of Hollywood, I have consistently missed Spike Lee’s presence in basketball. He’s silly, earnest and, most importantly, unquestionably passionate. He made a couple of commercials that will debut on the NBA’s Super Bowl, Christmas Day, and talked to Henry Abbott about the game he never seems to stop loving in the process.
  • In the NBA, especially given the ballyhooed roster building of the Portland Trailblazers and Oklahoma City Thunder, a great deal has been made of the “success cycle”, the idea that a team must either decide if it is making personnel decision based on competing immediately or building for the future. Basketball Prospectus‘ Kevin Peltons blows a gazillion holes in this ostensibly logical process that hasn’t actually worked out very often: “Looking through modern NBA history, it is equally difficult to find examples of the success cycle at play in terms of teams going completely through the rebuilding process and emerging as championship contenders. Instead, what we see is that the teams that make it do so haphazardly by adding a superstar through the draft, often with lottery luck… Beyond that, looking around the league, we see numerous examples of teams being in the right place at the right time. The Boston Celtics are the anti-success cycle poster boys, having gone from the lottery to the championship overnight by virtue of dealing for Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Lakers took the next step by putting themselves in position to deal for Pau Gasol. Both teams, and especially the Celtics, had to stockpile assets in order to make the trades, but if Minnesota and Memphis had been unwilling to deal, the course of history would look entirely different.”
  • Who has this year’s best player been? Kobe Bryant? Chris Paul? Kevin Love or Amar’e Stoudemire or Rajon Rondo? According to one (quite brilliant) man’s silly little stats site’s metric, it could be a very old, very crazy man.

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