We continue previewing the Southwest Division with the Houston Rockets. You can read past previews here.

by Marcel Mutoni

Last chance.

It is easily one of the most overused expressions in the English language. We hear it so often–from parents, employers, friends, lovers, and just about anyone with whom we regularly interact in our lives–and yet it has such little meaning. When do those people really ever follow through with their threat?

A writer once famously claimed that there are no second acts in American lives. F. Scott Fitzgerald, brilliant scribe that he was, didn’t know what the hell he was talking about. Life is all about second, third, and fourth chances. Especially in the NBA. Each new season season offers players and teams ample opportunity to reinvent and redeem themselves.

As for the Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming partnership, this could truly end up being their final chance to prove that they can make it work. Should they fail to advance their squad in the postseason, there might not be any second and third acts. Daryl Morey will be left with little choice but to seriously consider breaking them up and return to the drawing board.

On paper, the Houston Rockets have a mouth-wateringly good team. There is of course the aforementioned McGrady and his partner in crime Ming; a very good coach; Shane Battier and his indefatigable dedication to solid defense; a wildly charismatic and bruising rookie; and a supporting cast that plays their role to a T.

Oh yeah, there’s also that one wild card they picked up over the summer. Certainly can’t forget about him.

Given their respective ages, Yao, Artest, Battier, and McGrady should be entering that stage of their professional lives where they put it all together–they’re each , theoretically, in their primes. This means we’ll likely never see them perform at such a high level again. They’d be wise to take advantage of this and make something special happen.

Of course, it will not be easy. In fact, it will be insanely difficult; impossible perhaps. I have higher hopes of winning the Powerball jackpot than for McGrady and Yao to play an entire season’s worth of games. Can we really count on Ron Artest, who’s angling for a huge contract next summer, to behave when he has to share shots and the spotlight with two other All-Stars? That’s almost like asking Palin to break down the theory of relativity.

The optimist in me sees Adelman getting everyone to buy into his system, the win total being a shade north of 55, a couple of guys repping the team at the midseason classic in Phoenix, and Houston finally breaking through that First Round wall only to succumb to the Lakers in the Conference Finals.

The realist, however, sees the Houston Rockets for who they really are: that stunningly beautiful, emotionally fragile, and downright crazy girl you can’t help but fall in love with, knowing full well that she’ll break your heart in the end. Being the helplessly foolish romantic that you are, though, you will nonetheless sign up and go along for the turbulent ride.