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Tuesday, October 21st, 2008 at 8:00 am  |  90 responses

Houston Rockets Season Preview

Welcome to the Heartbreak Hotel.

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.

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  • http://www.slamonline.com James The Balla

    first

  • http://yaomania.com Wendy

    We Rocketsfans are used to heartbreaks. We are always optimistic :)

    I miss Deke though, and I wonder whether S-Francis can contribut. We need a solid PG and a backup for Yao, easier said then done.

  • http://yaomania.com Wendy

    Oh, $#$^%%* Utah Jazz.Hope we can sweep them.

  • andrew

    I’m curious to see how the Franchise works out post-injury. Hopefully OK. I’d like to see them take the ‘chip, only for Artest’s sake.

  • http://shawn-kemps-offspring.blogspot.com/ TADOne

    Palin jokes are just too easy anymore, but still funny as f*ck. Also loved the crazy girfriend who will break your heart reference. Finals or bust.

  • Clockwork

    If only Tmac and Yao were not made out of plastic…

  • Si

    “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.”

    Loved this quote. Thanks for that one Marcel, perfectly sums it up.

    I really hope we achieve this season…as I don’t feel we can put together another huge run of games like we did last season and in my opinion that’s what got us the Playoff spot.

  • http://hibachi20.blogspot.com Money Bill Williams

    anything below 50 wins is unnacepptable by this team

  • http://www.shawn-kemps-offspring.blogspot.com Eboy

    Gee…..another Laker fan writing a conference rivals piece…..and surprise, surprise…….they project the Lakers to knock the team being written about out…..I don’t know what’s more annoying as a reader…the Top 50 placement of certain guys….or these well written, biased-in-favor of-the-writers teams they root for. Pretty conflicted as a loyal SLAM head.

  • matt the jazz fan

    50 games lost between the big three = first round playoff exit.

  • Froggiestyle

    I would hate to be a rockets fan – they’re right behind Dallas in high hopes but under achievers. Anyone think that this will FINALLY be the year of the Yao?

  • KA

    this piece gave me perspective.

  • http://shawn-kemps-offspring.blogspot.com/ TADOne

    E: With all of the Rocket fans that frequent the site, i’m quite sure there will be a flood of comments that will read more like a biased Rockets preview, so it should even out.

  • Si

    LOL…did Froggiestyle just say the Rockets were behind Dallas…?

  • Michael

    i am with e on this one, the laker references are weak an unnecessary. the palin joke was lame as well, i doubt obama could break down the theory either.

  • Bryant Reeves

    “That’s almost like asking Palin to break down the theory of relativity.” – special or general? If you can’t properly explain either, does that make you as dumb as Palin?

  • http://heavyasheaven.blogspot.com DP

    I don’t see this as a preview but a service annoncement to the Rockets and their fans. This is really it for you guys and if T-Mac, Yao, and Artest don’t delive anything less than second round of playoffs, the season will be a failure. play wit it.

  • Bryant Reeves

    No mention of their amazing win-streak last year WITHOUT Yao? Ron Ron is going to average 22, 8 and 7 on this squad. #1 team in Texas this year.

  • http://shawn-kemps-offspring.blogspot.com/ TADOne

    If Artest averages those numbers, I will personally fly to Houston and buy RV dinner at the restaurant of his choice.

  • Marcel Mutoni

    maybe we should write these with no byline. that way we can retain all of our evil biases, but you guys won’t know from who they’re coming from. yeah!!!

  • http://www.shawn-kemps-offspring.blogspot.com Eboy

    That would be better, Marcel.

  • http://www.freewebs.com/betcats BETCATS

    they will have a decent year.

  • http://slamonline.com Russ Bengtson

    Most so-called experts think the Lakers will make the Finals (or even win a championship) next year, so it’s not inconceivable that the Rockets would wind up losing to them even after a successful season. I don’t think it reflects a Laker bias as much as it reflects general knowledge about the NBA. But WDIK.

  • http://www.shawn-kemps-offspring.blogspot.com Eboy

  • http://hibachi20.blogspot.com/ RV

    Tad, a few pizzas delivered to my home will do just fine

  • Brian

    No mention of Rafer Alston. He averaged over 13 points and 5 dimes last year

  • http://hibachi20.blogspot.com/ RV

    but seriously, i’m disappointed that the “ron artest is eventually going to flip out because he’s this hateful, evil, and selfish man” argument keeps being used. Maybe that’s a Russbole, but it’s all i hear. Ron’s given so many interviews over the past two months and there is ZERO indications that he’s going to react this way. When has he really bitched about not being THE man more than the average star? When has he been labeled a bad teammate? All of his issues come from 2 things. 1) Some dude threw a beer at him and 2)He was immature and lacking focus. So yes if some fan throws his shoe at his head then i’m gonna be worried. However, he’s really grown up and learned to keep his focus and realized what he needs to do to succeed in this league. And no I’m not saying this because he’s on my home team…i think most media that have dealt with ron in the past know he’s not a bad guy and deep down wants to do well. He was lacking the focus, which he has now. He’s even joining a fan forum to interact with fans here in Houston. All signs point to Ron being a model citizen from now on, too bad most want to keep focusing on a few rare incidents.

  • http://shawn-kemps-offspring.blogspot.com/ TADOne

    Yeah, but i’m quite sure I wouldn’t lose that bet.

  • http://hibachi20.blogspot.com/ RV

    Wendy, the pg spot will be fine, Rafer’s more than solid when he doesnt have to be a scorer/shooter, which he won’t anymore with the additions of Artest and Barry. Aaron Brooks is coming along nicely and could have somewhat of a breakthrough year. During the preseason he’s averaged like 18 and 6. Its only preseason, but he’s never played this well and this consistent since he’s been in the league. Overall, looks a lot more confident and comfortable on the floor.

  • http://www.ravingblacklunatic.blogspot.com Allenp

    Unlike RV I’m not certain that Ron Artest will remain sane, but I do think it’s pretty probable.
    This is a contract year. Artest has never made more than $7 million a year. He needs a big payday in the worse way. I think he’ll make a business decision like most cats in the NBA. The thing with the beer was a perfectly acceptable, in my mind, reaction to extreme stress. It’s highly unlikely that something like that happens again.
    Artest is playing for his money and that’s the biggest motivator in the league.

  • http://hibachi20.blogspot.com/ RV

    Unless Tmac AND Yao go down for the whole season and Ron becomes THE guy, then he’l probably average 27, 8, and 8. With “yao and tmac being made of plastic” its not too crazy, but who knows, he’s so damn twisted he might just break both of his arms himself right on the court to support his teammates..

  • http://hibachi20.blogspot.com/ RV
  • http://hibachi20.blogspot.com/ RV

    i just posted a link to several Artest sound bites about different subjects incase anyone is interested, wait for the moderation

  • http://hibachi20.blogspot.com/ RV

    and his most recent interview is here http://www.sports1140.com/pages/1939975.php

  • http://slamonline.com Russ Bengtson

    ESPN.com: Can the Pacers really count on you for the rest of the season?

    Artest: I’ll be here for the rest of the season. I didn’t play the last two games, but I talked to who I had to talk to. I’ll be playing for the rest of the season.
    That was November 12th, 2004. A week later, he was gone.

  • http://www.ravingblacklunatic.blogspot.com Allenp

    Russ
    Come on, that’s unfair.
    I disagree with RV’s argument that just because a players says good stuff that means he’s going to behave. However, I think everybody is underestimating Artest’s desire to get paid. Let’s be serious, if Artest plays up to his potential this season, he gets a deal at about $10 million to $12 million per year. He knows that and he needs the money. The whole thing with the rap career was about money. Artest has felt underpaid his whole career; he wants his money.

  • http://shawn-kemps-offspring.blogspot.com/ TADOne

    Artest, by potential and short flashes of brilliance, is underpaid. BUT, you have to be present in order to earn your money. I’m sure Ron is motivated, but can he stay focused?

  • http://www.ravingblacklunatic.blogspot.com Allenp

    TAD
    Aside from the Palace debacle, most of Artest’s other off court problems have been nothing major. They’ve just been viewed through the prism of the brawl. So, I’m fairly confident that Artest will avoid the minor BS, will beast out alongside Yao and McGrady and then will take his game to another level once one of them gets hurt as they almost certainly will.
    Artest is finally going to get paid, and then I think he’ll have another three to four years of superb play and good behavior. That’s what I’m hoping for at least.

  • http://hibachi20.blogspot.com/ RV

    Allenp, its not the typical responses an athlete gives to the media to cover his ass that i’m refering to, i think he’s said all the right things AND more. Its not just what he says, but that he doesnt really lie. Whether he says something crazy or sane he means it. So far everything he’s said is a positive for Houston. He busted his butt all summer on his 3 point shot just to be ready to play every role here. He came in and is looking good from 3 point range. He’s been pushing his teammates, being a good influence, words AND actions. I agree with the contract situation also, which i think just makes it even more likely he’ll stay out of trouble.

  • http://hibachi20.blogspot.com/ RV

    Prism of the brawl. Explains it perfectly.

  • http://shawn-kemps-offspring.blogspot.com/ TADOne

    I like Ron, so I hope so.

  • Jeter

    “Your 2009 NBA CHampions…..”

  • http://slamonline.com Khalid Salaam

    On paper it looks great but in real life this will not work. Repeat, it will not work.

  • Bryant Reeves

    Put Ron Ron at PF and watch him dominate games.

  • http://hibachi20.blogspot.com/ RV

    I hate it when Khalid uses HTML to make his reasoning invisible.

  • http://slamonline.com Russ Bengtson

    I just don’t think that Ron Artest will be the difference between a first-round out and a Finals trip. Good as he’s been, Rafer Alston is not a championship-level point guard, and I feel it’s likely that Yao and Tracy will miss roughly 45 games between them. And they will NOT be going on another 22-game winning streak. It’s not unrealistic to expect 50-something wins, but the conference finals might be a tall order.

  • Solomon

    No offense to Russ but as a Rockets fan i must point out alot of people didn’t think Rondo was a championship-level pg. Not saying he was the difference maker in the Finals,but he did start. And late in the game Tracy is prob the best option for the point with Artest,Battier,Scola and Yao all on the floor.

  • http://shawn-kemps-offspring.blogspot.com/ TADOne

    Rondo>Alston because of defense, length, and speed.

  • http://hibachi20.blogspot.com/ RV

    Russ, you don’t think Rafer is solid enough to be the point on a rocket’s team with Yao, Ron, Scola, and Tmac? As long as those guys are coming through Rafer isn’t going to play a big part. Rondo wasn’t a championship PG either.

  • http://slamonline.com Russ Bengtson

    True that, but Rondo was an unproven commodity. No one really knew WHAT he was, or how good he could be.

  • http://slamonline.com Russ Bengtson

    Skip’s a minor part of it all, though—I think injuries will be their undoing in the end. Along with either the Spurs, the Lakers or the Jazz.

  • http://hibachi20.blogspot.com/ RV

    Alston is underrated defensively. Tad, when you play team D like Houston, you don’t need blazing speed or length. They’ve been a top defensive team the last two years and Tmac and landry (last year) were probably the most athletic guys on the team. Their top defenders, Battier and Hayes, are not long or fast. Adelman has pointed out Rafer does a good job of staying in front of guards, but he’s not a flashy defender. Yes, Deron has killed them, but that’s coming off of picks, so its not entriely on Rafer.

  • http://hibachi20.blogspot.com/ RV

    entirely*

  • http://hibachi20.blogspot.com/ RV

    Also, in the halfcourt Barry’s going to be point-forward a lot of the time, he’s going to be making decisions himself that Rafer normally would, and that’s not a bad thing.

  • Solomon

    My only true knock on Rafer’s game is the amount of 3′s he takes. But at the the same time its in the flow of the offense,and if he knocks them down its even better. He isn’t the quickest of players but is an excellent ball handler and should attempt to attack the rim more. That would cut down on long rebounds too. Sasha and Rafer kinda remind me of each other. When they are hitting the are awesome,but if not… Rafer would be an awesome backup,but he knows the offense and is a pass first pg

  • Solomon

    Tracy is my fav player but i feel that he is a passive “superstar” and so is Yao. Neither of them have really asserted themselves as the “leader” of the team which is why i think they struggle from time to time. in the season its made to be Yao’s team but Mcgrady is def better in the playoffs regardless of not making it out the 1st. Had/s Grant Hill made it out the 1st?

  • http://slamonline.com Russ Bengtson

    Just out of curiosity, does anyone remember the last time the Houston Rockets won a playoff series? No? That was back in 1996, when they beat the Lakers 3-1 in the first round. Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming were still in high school. Hakeem Olajuwon led the way in the final game with 25 points, offsetting the 25 scored by Cedric Ceballos. The Rockets also got 17 apiece from Robert Horry and Kenny Smith (who went 6 of 6 from the floor, including 4 of 4 from three). For the Lakers, Magic Johnson had eight points, five rebounds and five assists off the bench in what would be his last-ever NBA game. The Rockets went on to lose to the Supersonics in the semis.

  • http://slamonline.com Russ Bengtson

    Grant Hill has never made it out of the first round either. The curse of the Magic?

  • http://hibachi20.blogspot.com/ RV

    Rafer’s not going to play as big of a role this year. His minutes should drop as well. With Brooks emerging, Francis possibly healthy, and Barry and Tmac playing some point, Rafer is going to get more rest than usual. The point guard duties are also going to be easier with Ron not needing set plays and Landry developing actual moves. If Wafer makes the team then that’s another guy who doesn’t need to be set up. However, Rafer may need to hold Luther’s hand most of the time.

  • http://hibachi20.blogspot.com/ RV

    more like a curse of frail bones

  • Solomon

    i think the Rockets have too many pg’s that do the same thing minus Francis if he can be considered in the debate lol. All of the are under 6’4 and shoot 3′s.

  • http://slamonline.com Russ Bengtson

    Grant Hill has played in all of four more career playoff games than Stephon Marbury.

  • http://slamonline.com Khalid Salaam

    WOW! i just heard that yao is out for the season with another stress fracture.

  • Solomon

    i brought up the Grant Hill thing to prove that he gets nowhere near the flack that Mac gets and hasn’t made it either. And lets not forget of all the playoff exits Mac has how many times was he actually favored to win the series? In other words when was the last time YOU honestly thought his team would advance barring the Detroit fiasco. Don’t worry i’ll wait…was it against the Knicks when he was a Raptor(how far did that Knick team go?) was it against Too Easy and the Hornets…

  • http://hibachi20.blogspot.com/ RV

    He probably hurt it kicking field goals.

  • http://slamonline.com Russ Bengtson

    Baron and the Hornets, yeah. That’s when they were up 3-1 and he said (paraphrasing here) “it feels great to finally get to the second round.” Then they lost three straight (behind a pair of Boom triple-doubles, if I remember correctly) and that was that.

  • http://slamonline.com Khalid Salaam

    Just kidding!!!.. but was anybody actually surprised? No way i put faith in a team that even when their stars are healthy find ways to lose in the 1st rd time after time. Also, the way that team is constructed will allow artest to assume a leadership position. They cannot succeed with that happening. Truth is, they will let down their fans once again. Accept it now and it won’t hurt as bad later.

  • Solomon

    no they lost the Hornet series 3-1. that next year against the Pistons was when they were up 3-1 and lost 4-3

  • Solomon

    i think they play better without Yao in the lineup. they do have a winning record without him and a losing one without Tracy. they are faster paced team and the lane isn’t clogged. get a truly athletic pf/c…amare would be a good fit

  • http://hibachi20.blogspot.com/ RV

    russ, no more wikipedia for you

  • http://slamonline.com Russ Bengtson

    Whoops, combining my years. I was at the final game of that Hornets/Magic series if I remember correctly. My bad.

  • Solomon

    i only remember cause of practice the next day and the $20 dollars i owed a teammate lol

  • http://hibachi20.blogspot.com/ RV

    the streak probably inflates that record with Yao/tmac out of the lineup.

  • http://slamonline.com Russ Bengtson

    RV: Basketball Reference, actually.

  • Solomon

    i remember Baron hitting some crazy 3 to win the game over McGrady and Mac falling to the ground to cover his eyes. They “reviewed” the play and said the shot was late(They were wrong) and the Magic still lost in OT

  • Solomon

    fact is without Mac they have some ungodly record….like 16-67

  • http://www.freewebs.com/betcats BETCATS

    they should have kept Mike James and traded Rafer. Or kept Bobby Jackson and traded Rafer.

  • http://hibachi20.blogspot.com/ RV

    I’m guessing no one saw Yao at the Texans game. They’re like the Rockets of the NFL, but a lot younger.

  • http://hibachi20.blogspot.com/ RV

    BET, Mike James isn’t even better than Aaron brooks right now. Bobby Jax is too old to build with.

  • Caleb

    With Artest, his on-the-court idiocy is just as bad as his off-the-court stuff.

    Oh and RV, Mike James is still an above average player… and has been shooting really well and doing a decent job of distributing in the preseason. Granted, its just the preseason… but don’t count James out. I think he’s gonna have a good season this year as CP3′s backup.

    Anyway… as to the Rockets: If the core stays healthy, I see them grabbing the 3rd or 4th seed, and possibly getting past the first round. But I think whoever they end up running into after that… be it the Hornets, the Jazz, the Lakers.. will probably knock them off.

  • RocketsTerps

    Some of you guys don’t know anything about the Rockets. Mike James SUCKS — Rafer is a much better point for this team. Bobby Jackson is OLD and never was able to run a team like Rafer. The Rockets won 55 games/2nd best rated defense behind Boston and add Artest and a healthy (prayerfully) Yao w/ an experienced Scola/Landry combo w/ a young Ben Wallace in Joey Dorsey and you don’t think this team is ready to shine??? PLEASE. Rockets 2009 NBA Champs!

  • http://hibachi20.blogspot.com/ RV

    Caleb, James needs to show it first. He hasn’t been consistent enough throughout his career to know for sure if he still has it. If you’re going by preseason, like i was, Brooks is still better, not by a large margin, but still is. He’s done the same thing before, where he shows he can distribute and score intelligently, but then he always goes back to only jacking it up. Have to wait and see.

  • Teddy-the-Bear

    ROCKET PRIDE. Very interesting article, I enjoyed reading it. However, I do indeed believe that our Rockets can accomplish something special this year.

  • Teddy-the-Bear

    @ BET: Uhhh, no. Rafer (New York whaddup!) rightfully stays.

  • http://www.triplejunearthed.com/dacre Dacre

    Brian says:
    No mention of Rafer Alston. He averaged over 13 points and 5 dimes last year
    ________________________________________________
    Sure, but not nearly enough assists to get this team past the 2nd round of the playoffs. I can’t believe how lengthy and well Rafer’s career has been in the NBA. I for one was a critic and I STILL dont see them getting to the finals.

    Consider this point. If you can be DOMINANT for a great stretch of games without “key” players as was the case when they went for that amazing 22 game W streak then you have to look at your roster as a whole and see if the “on paper” version, the FULL LINE UP is actually as good as the sum of it’s parts. Essentially the role players on this team are better at their jobs than the super stars are at theirs…AND THAT MAKES A PROBLEM.

  • http://hibachi20.blogspot.com/ RV

    Dacre, unless you were watching every game of the streak you don’t know how perfect everything came together. It started with tmac being out and the Rockets wanting to show they could win without him, then he came back and provided a lift to keep it going..then Novak hit a 3 practically at the buzzer to keep it alive at 8. That was the biggest moment, which gave them all a high for a few more games. then Yao goes down, and they all re-focused, not only to keep the streak alive, but prove they still had game without Yao. a few games later, they re-focused again as it became all about surpassing the league streak records. Then again had to re-focus towards the end to prove they could beat a contender like the Lakers….the majority of the schedule was easy, along the way different things caused them to regain their concentration when most teams would lose it. Had Novak not hit that 3, its very unlikely they win 14 in a row after that. All their shooters were on hot streaks (they went back to normal after the streak).It was just everything fitting perfectly and not that they are better without their stars.

  • http://hibachi20.blogspot.com Hursty

    Rocket Pride. That is all. :)
    PS- Teddy, dont be trying to steal that off of me now will you?

  • Froggiestyle

    Not to be a buzz kill there Hurst, but when was the last time they made it to the Conf finals? I’m not a fan so don’t know…

  • http://www.triplejunearthed.com/dacre Dacre

    RV…
    I would pin it on luck and the bounce of the ball too…..not being a great team, certainly not headed to the finals.

  • http://www.triplejunearthed.com/dacre Dacre

    See for me…they are the exact same team if they didnt get that streak and went 20-2 down that stretch. Won games they should have and faulted at key moments. My original point still stands I feel…If their record was more like 7-8 without Yao and McGrady then I would feel more comfident about their value to this team, in relation to whether they are going to the finals or not.
    CONSIDER: The year after Jordan retired, Scottie Pippen dragged the Bulls kicking and screaming to a 50+ win season, that had lost ONLY TWO GAMES LESS than with Michael the year before…the difference THE CHAMPIONSHIP obviously. What I want to establish is the concept that the Houston Rockets LOOK like they are built around Yao and TMAC but the output proves otherwise (whereas Jordan WITH Scottie and Rodman completed the teams needs), they do not lift this team to that next level of dominance at the playoff level and thats where they will come unstuck again. The only way out as I see it is if ROnROn becomes a leader for this team and Skip to my Lou gets on some “top 3-type pg salsa”….and get healthy!
    just my thoughts…

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