Personal Column: Houston Rockets quarter season report
December 8, 2014
In the NBA, they say you can’t know anything about a team until that team has played 20 games.
Well, the Houston Rockets have played 20 games. And their red hot 16-4 start after the first 20 games of the season, only 1.5 games behind Golden State, the number one team in the league, provides a pretty decent sample size for what is to come.
But let’s first analyze what else they say in the NBA, specifically what they say about the Rockets.
They said the Rockets’ bench was far too thin, that the team did not have enough role players to complement the two stars, James Harden and Dwight Howard.
They said the front office failed its duties in the offseason, as the roster failed to acquire any of the superstar free agents.
They said the team’s defense was woeful, and Houston would never be championship contenders while allowing so many points on one end of the court.
And two individuals who will go unnamed, called one of our players “soft”, while the other said that the city of Houston was “dirty”.
After 20 games, the Rockets have dispelled many of these insinuations. Yet the Rockets have already faced quite a number of challenges.
The injury bug has bit the Rockets hard and early this year, giving the team a “next man up” mentality. Last Wednesday, during the Rockets’ dismantling of the Grizzlies, four Rocket players sat on the bench dressed in suits. And not just any four Rockets either.
Starting guard Patrick Beverley, known for his defensive tenacity, was one of the Rockets in street clothes. Beverley has had three hamstring injuries in the last month alone, but did come back in an impressive manner against the Suns last Saturday night, with 19 points off five 3-pointers and six rebounds. But Beverley has been sighted spottily this season, playing in some games every other week.
Starting center Dwight Howard, who the Rockets planned to center their offense around more this year, has been dealing with a nagging knee injury. His knee problems have kept him off the court for a good amount of time, which is no good for any Rockets fans. In fact, the last time Howard played in a game for the Rockets was November 17 at Memphis.
Starting forward Terrence Jones has also been out for some time. Jones has not suited up for Houston since November 3, after suffering nerve damage in his left leg. Jones could not even move his left leg with his injury, and has no solid timetable for his return.
Another significant injury happened to backup guard Isaiah Canaan. Canaan, who was promoted to starting guard after Beverley’s hamstring issues, suffered a nasty ankle sprain against the Clippers on November 28. With Canaan and the other Rockets sidelined, the Rockets have had to look for other options to fill in the scoring void in different games.
James Harden, who is without a doubt the Rockets’ franchise player, has still been consistently providing minutes and buckets for Houston in the midst of all the injuries. Even with a few off nights, Harden deserves his status as one of the premier shooting guards in the league, and he may garner some MVP attention if he keeps his production up and the Rockets’ wins up. But it has been proven that it takes more than one player to win games. So how have the Rockets ended up with the second best record in the entire league so far?
The Rockets bench has stepped up in major ways. The same bench that experts said would be the Rockets’ downfall has toughed out some gritty wins. Backup forward Donatas Motiejunas has been providing stellar post play in the wake of Jones’ injury. Backup center Tarik Black, who was an undrafted rookie that was signed this year, is nicely filling in the role of a center. Even third string center Joey Dorsey has given serviceable minutes off the bench by producing off the boards. In essence, a host of bench players have made the most of their newfound playing time. Forwards Kostas Papanikolaou and Francisco Garcia have hit timely big shots down the stretch. Third string guard Nick Johnson, a rookie out of Arizona, hit a game winning layup against the Timberwolves last Friday. The Rockets at times have played a lineup of Johnson-Papanikalaou-Garcia-Motiejunas-Black because of injuries and fatigue. For most casual fans, it would be tough just to know who these players are, much less expect them to win games.
Free agent acquisitions have also helped out in the Rockets’ areas of need. James Harden has been playing this season with added firepower on the wing with veteran journeymen Jason Terry and Trevor Ariza. Both have contributed to the Rockets’ average of 12.0 three pointers made per game, a league best. Terry and Ariza have also contributed to the Rockets third ranked defense, allowing only 94.0 points per game. Although the fans of Houston may have wanted bigger names to have come to town during the offseason, Terry and Ariza have found their niches on the team as shooters and veteran leaders who fit rather nicely with the rest of the Rockets.
The Rockets have proven that they have both depth and defense. Of course, championships are not won in December. They are not won in any month but June. If the Rockets can get healthy by this summer, they will be dangerous in the postseason. It may still be too early to tell, but the Rockets have all the potential to go to the Western Conference Finals. There is still a long way to go, and this season will provide plenty opportunity for the young Rockets to grow together as a team.
Only time will tell for these Rockets. This team will still have to work as hard as possible in order to erase the sea of doubts surrounding them. Some analysts of the NBA said the Rockets would face the same first round playoff exit. But these were also the same people who said all that other stuff about this team.
So this is a call to action for all Rockets fans. Houston sports have disappointed many in the last decade, but the title dream is very much alive this year for the Rockets. Stand up Houston. This could be our year.
(Photo courtesy Reuters / Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports)