Friday, October 31, 2008

Go For Launch: Rockets Off To A Good Start

Let's go ahead and get this out of the way. Unless everything stays the exact same for the entire season, tonight isn't indicative of anything. Furthermore the Rockets always start strong. We've been here before, at least in terms of a whole two (TWO!) wins. It's a long damn season.

That said.

Every great team has to start somewhere, and it's better to start early than late.

If this is the identity that the Rockets adapt, I love, love, love this team. Weapons, everywhere. Versatility. Defense. Focus. Energy. And Aldeman has taken full reins on offense, and you can tell.

This team has dabbled with focus in its incantations. But before it was always built out of a desperation. "We need to be good enough with Yao and T-Mac." There was a sense of desperation that led to mental breakdowns. But Morey let the team simmer, added elements from the D-League in young players, let them bond, and then added Artest.

What you have now is a unit that's more evenly centered and believes in itself. Instead of relying on McGrady and Ming to carry them, the team is surging, letting Yao and McGrady excel in situations that put them in the advantage. They can drive, then work the post, they can hit from the perimeter, they can run, they can pass, and man can they defend. The Mavs played well tonight, the Rockets just played better.

Adding Brent Barry was another stroke of genius. Last night when Luther Head was detonating, Barry took the ball from him to control the damage. Tonight, when Brooks started rushing things, Barry did it again. I kept thinking, though, "Barry, you have to let him grow into it, or you're just avoiding the problem." Then when Brooks started to rush it again, Barry caught him, took the ball, then told him to set the offense and gave it back. The Rockets scored on that possession. Brooks' speed on the pick and roll is devastating and a change of pace that caught the Mavs off guard. They didn't know how to react to that kind of speed. Letting him handle it in crunch time before putting in Rafer to close was another nice touch.

Alston's stat line looks terrible, and his shot wasn't falling tonight. But he ended up having 6 hockey assists that I counted, and kept up what he showed last season and has especially worked on going into this season. He understands the offense and knew how to manage it tonight.

You can tell McGrady loved having people to distribute it to tonight. Maybe it's the injuries. Maybe it's the family gene. But he made some killer drive and kicks on the way to 7 assists, relishing not having to force the issue.

For a majority of the fourth, Aldeman held out Yao and McGrady. The Rockets built and held a lead behind Ron Artest. That's what Artest does. He provides the second unit a guy who can produce when he needs to and then shift to an auxiliary role when the two top guys come back in. In one sequence, Artest guarded Brandon Bass, Josh Howard, and Dirk Nowitzki in back to back possessions. On top of this he nailed a huge three of a screen. Rob messaged me as Artest unleashed an awesome tribal dance, "When did Ron Artest turn into Jason Kapono?" Artest working the perimeter gets back to a level of offensive potency with the inside-outside game that made them very hard to stop tonight.

We'll have to see if Artest can keep his head and if McGrady will work through the injuries or if they'll bog him down, but getting nights where Yao has 30 and Artest 29, that's a pretty good start even without McGrady.

Now they just have to, you know, do it for more than a month.

Also, I want to watch the Crazy Pills dance a hundred times.

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