Houston Rockets: The last stand

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courtesy of @houstonrockets on Twitter

Game 3 of the Rockets-Warriors playoff series had both sides see the emergence of a team with some heart, determination, and hunger to win a series. Game 3 was also the first time the caliber of the talent on the roster, primarily at #1 and #2. Through a few chance alley oops from Harden to Howard, the team finally displayed team leadership and ownership of what happens out on the court, through 4 quarters of ball. The win ignited the team, and today’s pregame practice showed that energy has not left the building.

Is it too late to come back, though? Nobody can argue the impact Steph Curry has on any opponent that faces him. He averages just over 30 points per game, and has an accuracy not matched by any single member of the Rockets. His absense in the second half of game 1, game 2, and game 3 gave the Rockets the biggest opportunity they’ll have in the playoffs this year, and it was all but squandered. The first game was an embarrassment, the second game almost the same, but then the Rockets woke up in game three.

The same intensity will be out on the court today, less than an hour away from tip off. Steph Curry will be out there too, and it’s anyone’s guess as to what level he brings back after resting 2 1/2 games. This game is another must-win game for the Rockets if they have a prayer to advance, because they won’t be coming back from 3-1. Not in Oracle Arena, and not if Curry has a say. If the Rockets post a win today, that evens out the series. That also brings another game back to Houston. That is their only chance.

This game will be tough, but will be exciting to watch. I am still of the mind to state this team doesn’t deserve the championship run that their just good enough to stumble in to the playoffs record has allowed them. I still don’t believe that this team has the leadership and drive to make it. I believe they’ll put up a good fight. However, I simply don’t believe it will be enough to drive them to a win this game. I think the effort in the last game was futile, because it came way too late and at a high cost to the team.

In the event I am wrong, and Thursday’s victory was just the start of an ubelievable comeback for the books, then I’ll be speechless. It will be hard to change my opinion about this year’s team, but if that unbelievable comeback happens, it may start to turn. That depends strongly on the Rockets playing hard for at least 3 to 4 more games. In all honestly, I haven’t seen the Rockets play hard for a streak since 2014. Even their best year in recent history, 2015, saw streaks of phoning it in on the court. Especially in the playoffs.

In the event I am right, and I believe fully that I am right. The Rockets will give their deserving fans a final game worthy of shelling out their hard earned bucks in a heartbreaking loss. Today’s game will be worth the view, and will be a rare glimpse of what this team can really do, so do watch. Do see what this team was capable of all year. And then you can start to realize why this team has to be rebuilt when it’s over. But for now, just enjoy the show.

 

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Houston Rockets: #Celebrategate and why it matters

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I’m sure every Rockets fan can remember exactly where they were when Damian Lillard stole the world away from us. I was at my favorite sports bar and just lost my voice with the excitement of what was surely a game 6 win for the Rockets and an opportunity to bring the series back home for a game 7 win. What was a compelling game to watch with two teams that wouldn’t back down came down to the final 9/10ths of a second, but we were already celebrating game 7. The ball was then thrown back into play, and we all got to witness this:

Game over. Lillard’s buzz beater 3 pointer sealed the fate of the Rockets that season, and fans around the city went from immense joy to silent depression. In the moments after, you could walk out on any city street and hear a pin drop.  Minutes earlier, people already started celebrating. That buzzer beater will always remind each and every one of us that anything can happen within the time span of the clock. Hold your breath, get excited, but save the celebration for 0.0.

Last night’s game was played in a similar fashion and mentality. The Rockets came out with explosive energy and played their hearts out. The Warriors, albeit without their star Steph Curry, were knocked on their feet. They did stage a gradual comeback throughout the game, and in the 4th quarter, it was neck-and-neck. This was the kind of playoff game you want to be at. This is the kind of ball we all wanted to see all season long, and it finally appeared in a must-win situation to keep the Rockets alive. For as much disappointment this team has given us all this season, this game began to make up for it.

Most of us, though, still have that memory. When Harden sank his jumper in the last few seconds, the clock stopped at a near-ominous point: 2.1 seconds remaining in the game. The Lillard shot took .9 seconds. This was far from over. The bench, including Josh Smith, Dwight Howard, and Clint Capella, stood anxiously watching Harden’s moves. When he sank it, Capella was overjoyed, Josh Smith looked unfazed, and Dwight Howard seemed to quietly praise God. However, the ever-scrutinous Rockets fan base, as well as NBA critics around the world, began to wonder if the team didn’t get as excited as they should have.

The scrutiny itself seems silly, especially when we can all look back at the 2014 playoffs. However, it’s not just the overly critical Rockets fans reacting to this. It’s the NBA at large, who has been privy to the off-court drama and on-court play this team has dished out this season. A team on the brink of the championship in 2015 comes out in disarray. Multiple players only meetings, one resulting in the incredible and unwarranted firing of their head coach, as well as the pretty embarrassing trade-shopping for Howard clearly demonstrated a team in trouble.

In fact, this season is the direct antithesis of what a championship basketball team is and how one works. Game after game we had players showing up for attendance and checking out halfway through the game. At times, they weren’t even there. Sloppy plays, increasingly desperate 3 point attempts, a hastily appointed interim coach that had no authority over the team, and a group of players that hardly resembled a team, much less the few games away from a Championship game team that left the court in 2015. And let’s not forget defense, even though the team has.

Today’s story would be different, much different, had the Rockets brushed off the tulmutuous season and hit the playoffs in a mad sprint. They didn’t. The first game was as much of a mess as the entire season had been. It’s a game that had everyone chanting “sweep” from every couch cushion, barstool, and stadium seat around the country, watching this series. If game 3 had been a testimony of the effort and heart these players put into the whole series, nobody would be watching the bench instead of the court in the final seconds of the game.

That didn’t happen, though. We were treated to two abysmal games in which the Rockets had each and every chance to make this a 3-0 series, especially considering Curry’s exit in game 1, but continue their haphazard season in the same way they carried themselves throughout. Had this team hit the court in game 1 or 2, the Rockets would have a 3-0 record, and an opportunity to advance and actually sweep the Warriors – the record-breaking, unstoppable Warriors – to advance to the next round. This playoff series was theirs to prove what they had, and we heard it loud and clear.

A team with the talent, to step up when they really have to – and last night, they really had to – but not a championship team that has what it takes to step up every game.

People are confused and irritated about the scrutiny on the sidelines with 2 seconds left in the game? They shouldn’t be. By all appearances, this now-infamous vine wasn’t even posted by a Rockets fan or affiliate. So it’s not Rocket fan scrutiny happening here. We can turn our heads when Barkley slams the team, but when the fandom of the NBA is speaking up, that is hard to ignore. Sure, Rockets fans and critics alike jumped on the scrutiny, but it came from a place existing outside of the Rocketsphere. Those queries and critiques are the ones we should listen to.

Regardless of how far the team gets in the playoffs (which I predict will be 3 more games, tops), the problems within this organization are a little to loud to ignore. When it comes down to whether or one half of your feuding players are celebrating the counterpart’s success on the court, instead of what’s happening on the court, the organization can’t brush it off. The scrutiny is there for a reason. So let’s stop defending the players and criticizing the fans for their eye toward detail that usually shouldn’t matter. It matters this year, and we all know why.

 

 

Houston Rockets: Playoff time

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I just want to remind you of what a Championship team looks like.

A 2-time championship team.

A team who didn’t have nasty feuds in the locker room that spilled out onto headlines and the basketball court.

A team who didn’t have star players chasing cameras and celebrities.

A team who stood behind their coaching staff through thick and thin.

A team who didn’t try to trade off their own teammates throughout any season, win or loss.

I want that to be made clear, before anyone goes into statistical comparisons between this team and today’s team.

There is no comparison.

The 2016 Rockets have fallen apart, and it’s a miracle they’ve stumbled into a playoff spot with an even record. After a devastating and, frankly, embarrassing loss against the Suns – one game, but also one game that succintly sums up the entire season – they managed to win out and claim their position. And it honestly couldn’t be more fitting than to face the top seed, 9 loss, multiple record-breaking returning Champions: the Golden State Warriors. A high-energy team with the highest points per game, playing a team that stumbled in backwards into the last spot of the playoffs, who apparently believes that defense is optional.

Granted, the Rockets rank #4 this year in points per game, but have a .1 point differential vs their opponents. When you’re ranked in the top 4 in scoring and have that differential, you’re missing a huge element of the game. Dwight Howard hasn’t done it for us. That’s one reason he’s on his way out. The Rockets will need more than 1 hole to fill next week when the offseason is over for them. Because, let’s face it, there is no way that the Rockets get out and consistently outscore Golden State in 4 of 7 games, much less 4-4, 5, or 6. A team can’t stumble in with a losing record, when they can’t consistently play 4 Qs of ball and expect anything but embarrassment.

Here is to hoping this is a short stint, and as painless as possible. Currently, with the Rockets down 33-60 in the half of game 1, it may be short, but not so much on the painless. With 2 consecutive quarters scoring less than 20, Rockets currently are not even on pace to finish with 80 points. 80 points, in  a playoff game against the highest scoring team in the league this year. Here’s to hoping this team gets dismantled 4 games from now, from top to bottom, and gets properly rebuilt. Start with the GM. Put interim HC Bickerstaff out of his misery. And put some thought into whether or not this team can find someone to compliment James Harden on the court. If not, then maybe it’s time to move on there, too.

This is not a championship team. This roster doesn’t even compare to the 1994/1995 team that brought a title to Houston. Frankly, it’s insulting to continue to force the comparison. That team deserves better than to be held up to the current team. This isn’t an attack on any individual players or skills, per se, but the overall disaster that Daryl Morey helped build. This is his face, and it has failed miseraby .Be gone, sir. The Rockets would have been better off staying out of the big boy’s games this year, but perhaps they need this national embarrassment and veritable ass-whooping on national television to really let it sink in. The fans want more. The fans deserve more. The team deserves more. So, get it done in the offseason.

 

 

Houston Rockets: Season wrap-up

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This is the first and maybe last column for the 2015-16 Houston Rockets season. With three games left and 1 game out of the playoffs, I am officially declaring the season over. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say Thursday night’s embarrassing loss to the 20-28 (now 21-38) young, inexperienced Phoenix Suns should disqualify the team from playoff contention out of principle.

There is not one better game to represent this disaster of a season for the Houston Rockets – a team that made it all the way to the conference championship in 2015 with the same core players.

Before the Rockets took the court of their first game of the season, I, along with most, felt that this was the year for the Rockets to make a real run. They weren’t a complete team, with the same defensive woes that hadn’t been managed since 2013, but the key was outscoring opponents, every single game. It worked in 2014. It worked in 2015. It was set to work in 2016.

When the Rockets lost their first game to Denver Nuggets, I shrugged my shoulders, and jokingly made a promise not to watch the games until they improved over the Texans winning percentage. At that point, it would have taken a single win, as the Texans were 2-5. A few losses later, and I thought perhaps that I’d jinxed the team. Then, they started clocking some wins.

And then they sunk again – 4 in a row, and then a team meeting. Eleven games into the rocky start of a season, and a players only meeting was called. The result of that? Coach Kevin McHale was fired. Interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff  took over, and the Rockets took the court against the Portland Trailblazers and won a thriller going into overtime. And then the losses continued.

The whole season has been a see-saw of ups and downs. There was no rhyme or reason – some were won, and some were lost. Upsets occurred, and sure wins were lost. The only constant was the guys on the court could not get it and keep it together. There was no clear leadership, and no clear direction. We’re not talking about a team of rookies, either. We’re talking about a core group who has been to 2-3 playoffs together as Rockets.

An uncomfortable amount of those losses were leads that fell apart in the 4th quarter. Literally half of the Rocket’s losses occurred with at least 1 quarter with less than 20 points. I’m not talking about 19, 18 – I mean 11 points, 12 points, 13, 14. The low point was 11, unless you count 8 in an overtime loss. I won’t, because 5 quarters of basketball is grueling. However, half of this year’s losses happened because the Rockets crapped the bed for a quarter (or even 2).

The turning point (or potential turning point) in the season came precisely 2 months ago, with an away game at Golden State, in Oracle Arena, where the Warriors had a 41-game home winning streak. In the 1st quarter, it seemed clear the Warriors were going to add another game, with 42 points to put them up 15. The Rockets charged back in the next 2 quarters, and the team entered the 4th tied at 93. And then they fizzled. Another sub-20 quarter, and another loss by double digits.

In a game that could have changed the course, they just couldn’t. Couldn’t try hard enough, couldn’t get it together, couldn’t care – it doesn’t matter. They just couldn’t, which pretty much defines this entire season.  A team who was on the brink of playing for the Championship just 1 year prior couldn’t do it anymore. So what is the real problem? There are some specific issues with the team. Ego, leadership, and defense are the biggest problem areas. Dropping the ball on trades, hasty firings – the list goes on.

The real issue is this team is broken, and there’s no fixing it.

Leadership and ego are the main issues. Harden/Howard is not going to be fixed, and it’s hurt this season more than any other. Harden’s self-centered, and isn’t much of a team player. The coaching leans on that, though, because he can also put up 30-40 points on a regular basis. One superstar isn’t going to win it, however. Just ask Lebron. Howard can’t handle the designation of 2nd in command, but the problem there is he doesn’t want to put the work in to be top dog.

When these 2 are supposed to be the leaders, and they try harder to get the other removed, rather than work together to win games, the result is exactly what we’ve seen all year long from this team. A group that throws away leads and can’t finish in games that matter.

Defense – in which former DPOY Howard can step up in a leadership role – has fallen flat. It’s not-existant. Out of the 41 losses the Rockets have this year (20 with low-scoring quarters in the teens and below), the Rockets have lost 24 games in which they’ve scored in the triple digits, and many of those losses have been by 10 or more points. Again, the Rockets have primarily ignored strengthening their defense since 2013, relying heavily on simply outscoring opponents. That’s not good enough for a championship.

The Rockets are 3 games shy of closing out the season, and a single game out of the top 8 in the West. Out of those 3 games, 2 are opponents that the Rockets have swept thus far in the season, but that doesn’t even matter anymore. I predict a 1-2 win/loss record to finish it out, because then the Rockets could be 2 teams shy of losing to every single team in the NBA.  I wouldn’t even want to see what kind of show they put on in the playoffs with teams who actually have worked to get there. The Suns loss 2 days ago was bad enough.

The only winner coming out of this era is Kevin McHale. He’s had 4 winning seasons and 3 playoff appearances in his 4 years with the Rockets, and was unceremoniously scapegoated  and relieved of duty before this disaster could taint his record. That’s why, with 3 games left in the season, I’m wrapping it up. This is the only column they deserve for the year, and with any luck this team will be detonated and rebuilt in the upcoming off season. Just scrap it all, because there are too many problems to fix – and start with Daryl Morey.

 

Houston Astros: All Stats Point To…

This year has been an exciting year to be an Astros fan since the 2005 World Series run season.  Let’s face it, since then we bottomed out, walked through purgatory, and have finally started to climb back up to the status of a team that can play.  We went through an ownership and league change, hit rock bottom, and started building a new team from scratch.  Today, 10 years after our first and only World Series appearance, we are posed to get back into the playoff race.

Unfortunately, with every road game we’ve had in September, that dream has slowly eroded.  Last night, in the walk-off heart-breaking loss to the Rangers, we lost our top spot in the American League West, as well as the Silver Boot.  We’ve had what looks like the worst start for a month since the season began (although that’s only half-true), and we’re now looking at the Minnesota Twins as our direct competition for a spot in the post season (currently, the Twins stand 1.5 behind the Astros for the 2nd Wildcard spot).

If you compare our W/L stats for the first and second half of the season, we’ve actually remained pretty consistent – slipping only marginally.  In the first half, before the All-Star break, we had a total of 49 wins and 42 losses, which put our winning percentage at 53.8%.  In the second half, we’ve had 28 wins and 27 losses, which puts our wins at 51%. That slight slide, unfortunately, has been the difference of remaining the top team in the American League West, and stepping down to second place.

That slight slide has only cost us a single game, but a single game (at this point) is all it took to dethrone our reign at the top of the American League West.  The Astros have remained pretty consistent in their overall W/L ratio, but the Rangers have picked up speed.  Their first half gave them 42 wins and 46 losses, with a winning percentage of 47.7%, but the second half has given them 35 wins and 21 losses, with a winning percentage of 62.5%.

If both teams keep going at the same pace, well, I’m sorry folks, but it looks like we’ll have to settle for #2 in the AL West, but we’ll still have a shot at the wildcard. It’s not the glory we’d hoped for, but I’m really not sure that anyone expected us to be here to begin with.  After all, we started the season with only a 14% chance to play in the post-season, at now we’re sitting at 85%. We were dead last in our division to get there April 6th, and 5 months later, we’ve got the best chance in the division (but the gap is closing).

Now, the big question is, will we be able to pull off a comeback in September?  After all, this is a young, inexperienced team and, as a team, we have never been anywhere near a playoff push in the American League.  The Rangers are old pros.  Even the Angels are.  In fact, everyone in our division has a range of experience in the September playoff push but the Astros.  Is that particularly meaningful?  Yes and no.

We have 2 teams literally battling it out to get to the post-season, and 1 team that is still on the cusp, but not probable.  Nobody has been mathematically eliminated yet, but there isn’t a world that exists that I can see the Athletics winning 90% of their remaining games, while everyone else loses out in the season.  It’s not likely for the Mariners, either. So, we have 3 teams that could make it, 2 that are probable, and 1 that will be the shoo-in.

Given all the statistical information up top, I predict the Rangers taking the AL West, and the Astros taking the 2nd wildcard spot. Which, if I can recall correctly, is where we were sitting in 2005.  No, I’m not getting crazy and insinuating that we’re gonna make it to the Pennant Championship this year, but we’ll bring some playoff action to the Astros (and maybe to Houston) after a 10 year hiatus. And I will tell you why.

Remember when I said that it was only half-true that we’ve had the worst start of a month that we’ve had all season, in September? Well, that’s because September shares that designation with July of this season.  In both months, the Astros won only 4 of their first 13 games.  In July, though, we came back strong and won 7 of 10 games in the second half of the month. I know that doesn’t prove that we’ll have an identical month, but the Astros also started slow in the months of June and August, both with only 5 wins in the first 13, and a strong finish of 10 of 6 and 10 of 5 games won in the second half of the month, respectively.

So why is that? Well, for the months of June and August, the first half of the month had more road games than the second half (much like September).  In July?  We lost Springer and had to re-group.  In May, our road/home games were evenly distributed, so we had a pretty consistent month.  In April, we had quite a few away games, but the Astros started out hot with something to prove.  Interestingly enough, we actually had a better winning percentage on the road than we did at home in April.  There’s always an anomaly, though.

I know there’s been a lot of talk about the Astros sliding off in September, especially since it’s the last full month of baseball before the playoffs.  However, as you’ve seen above, this isn’t necessarily true.  The Astros are simply on the same trend they’ve been on, with a slow start of the month and a strong finish, that they’ve been on since June.  If we’re doomed to repeat our recent history, we’ll finish out the season with 11-12 wins.  I predict that will keep us just ahead of the Twins (although it could come down to half a game) to secure the last wildcard spot of the season.

Bold prediction for tonight?  We’ll finally get some veteran HRs in this series, as well as a comeback HR from Springer (who hasn’t hit a HR since his injury), and a win that will put us back into the #1 spot in the AL West one final time. Tonight, our comeback begins.

Welcome to YOUstontx!

YoustonTx is a community-oriented project cultivated to bring a spirited and loyal fan base to Houston Sports teams. It’s time for us to stand up and stand behind our teams and help gain the respect they deserve.

Now that we’ve got that covered, lets take a look at the collective status of our teams in pro sports.

On second thought…

Let’s face it, Houston doesn’t have a lot of respect in the pro sports arena.  Of the big three, we’ve got a single team that’s got National Championship cred, and two of three that have even made it to the championship games.  Now, on the MLS side, we’ve had a lot more success, and have some die hard fans in that arena, so we don’t have to worry quite as much about boosting morale.  Dynamo and Dash have respect, so don’t I’m forgetting about you guys.  You just seem to have it figured out where the rest of us don’t.

We’ve had some pretty big shake-ups in our clubs, as well.  Everybody cried a single blue tear when the Oilers packed up and moved to Tennessee, mainly because the town wasn’t big enough for the likes of two jerks that really didn’t like each other (God rest their souls) and spited the whole city because of it.  But hey, 5 years later, we got an expansion team.  Nobody’s really proud of that, but it is what it is.  That little expansion team has grown into a two-time playoff team, with a formidable fan base.  We’re loud and proud, but also very pessimistic.  Look what the Oilers are doing these days, though, folks.  We’ve really come a long way.

And the Astros.  What can we say about the now oldest sports franchise in Houston?  We used to be a baseball city.  We used to love our ‘Stros.  Bandwagoneering hit its zenith in the 2004-2005 seasons when we had our highest hopes for a pennant.  We also finally made it, for the first time in franchise history, to the World Series.  In fact, we had a good 10 year block surrounding that era where fan attendance to the games far exceeded the annual average for all MLB clubs.  And then the Astros started to slip, and then attendance plummeted.  And boy did it plummet.  Add to the fact that Mr. McLane apparently hates every one of us and sold the team down the river (be mad at him, not Crane), and we ended up with a bunch of angry fans.

Rockets fans – eh, you’re pretty consistent.  We have a rise and fall of fan attendance and enthusiasm that pretty equally matches that of our team performance.  When it’s good, it’s good.  When it’s bad, we still show up.  Not in the high-packed numbers of a playoff season, but we don’t embarrass ourselves on national television with a 3/4 empty arena.  We can still step it up, though.  We can worry a little less about being spotted on tv and worry a little more about what’s happening on the court.  Translation: get behind the team if you’re gonna show up for the game.  In this past playoff season, it was particularly embarrassing to hear the silence in Toyota Center when our guys were playing at home.  Make some noise, for crying out loud.

In essence, we, as sports fans, need to have some pride for our city and for our teams.  We need to let that enthusiasm ruminate from our pores and spread like wildfire.  Really, this city needs to burst into flames (proverbially, not literally) when our teams are playing – and not simply when they’re winning.  We need to have their backs.  We want to have their backs.  We want our teams to garner the respect they deserve.  We want a Nation behind Houston sports.  We do – we really do.  You cannot deny the electrifying presence in the city when we’ve got a major league team sprinting for the finish line.  It brings new life into the city.  And there’s no reason why we can breathe this life into every season.

And guys, do we have an exciting couple of years coming up for the big three in Houston.  The Rockets are getting closer to another Championship every year.  The Texans want the playoffs again, and to get some respect in the league for something more than being first place when the Colts were rebuilding.  The Astros are finally getting it right, building from the ground up and turning into what could be a World Championship team in the next year or two.  It’s a great time to be a sports fan in Houston, and we need to stand up and help raise our teams to the top.