The Houston Rockets have won four straight after a 3-7 start to reach .500 nearly a quarter of the way through this wacky, shortened season. Houston is a game back of Dallas for the eighth playoff spot out west and has only lost once at home this season, to league-leading Oklahoma City.

And Rockets fans should be disgusted by the progress made by coach Kevin McHale and his growing team.

With the declining health of Yao Ming, the past few years Houston has been stuck in NBA purgatory: not good enough to make a serious run in the playoffs and too good to get a decent lottery pick in the draft.

By firing highly regarded coach Rick Adelman and hiring the unproven McHale, it appeared the Rockets were content to slip into the lottery for a year or two to rebuild in the draft.

The Rockets began the year as expected, including lopsided losses to the Grizzlies (20 points) and Clippers (28 points). But now Houston has won its last four games by an average of 10.25 points.

Sure the Rockets have beaten up on some of the worst teams in the league — and honestly, beating the Wizards is no more impressive than Yao Ming blocking a shot from Air Bud — but that just proves Houston is the definition of mediocrity.

The Rockets can’t contend for an NBA title this year and, as seen in the past four games, won’t be bad enough to compete with the Washingtons and Charlottes of the league for a top draft pick, barring an incredibly lucky draw in the lottery.

Worst of all, I’m afraid the Rockets won’t fail miserably this year and thus won’t get rid of assistant coach Kelvin Sampson, one of the biggest weasels in sports who was kicked out of college basketball for his blatant disregard of NCAA rules at Oklahoma and Indiana.

The Rockets, once the premier NBA franchise in Texas, are now clearly the worst. The first franchise to win an NBA title in the Lone Star State with back-to-back championships under Rudy Tomjanovich and Hakeem Olajuwon in the mid-90s, Houston (two titles) has been passed by San Antonio (four titles) and is poised to be passed by Dallas (defending champs).

It makes you wonder what might have happened to the Rockets had the Pau Gasol trade not been egregiously vetoed by commissioner David Stern prior to the season.

Would an aging center surrounded by a lessened cast (two starters and one influential backup would’ve been gone) helped Houston reach the upper echelons of the West or the lower echelons of the lottery?

Either direction would have been better than the current middling state.

Other Musings…

Younger Gunners

Arsenal, a North London soccer team in the English Premier League, recently invited the son of its best player to train with the club’s youth teams.

Robin van Persie has single-handedly — or rather, with his left foot — kept the Gunners relevant this season. His 5-year-old son, Shaqueel, declined an opportunity to begin training with his dad’s club.

Some may think that’s a bit young to begin recruiting athletic prodigies, but I say, why did it take so long?

If Nike hasn’t offered a deal to LeBron James’ children yet, someone has seriously dropped the ball.

Anti-SOPA Spiel

While not sports related, let me use a sports analogy to explain how criminal the proposed Stop Online Privacy Act appears to be based on my understanding of the bill.

Maybe you noticed Google’s censored logo or Wikipedia’s self-imposed blackout on Wednesday. The reason is to stand up against SOPA, which is designed to protect rights holders from copyright infringement and curtail counterfeiting. The bill, by censoring the Internet, could have devastating effects, possibly even killing social media.

The broad wording of the bill would restrain free speech and prevent innovation. Had this bill been passed 15 years ago, it’s likely Facebook, YouTube or Twitter would have never existed.

To put SOPA in sports terminology, let’s say the bill was passed and it applied to the NFL, not the Internet. All jerseys worn by the Sunday giants are made by Reebok. But let’s say Nike claims that Reebok jerseys are actually counterfeits of Nike’s product. Once Nike makes this claim, the NFL would be required stop selling all of its jerseys immediately without proof of whether the jerseys are in fact counterfeit.

Or, to look at it another way, it’d be as if the Dallas Cowboys claimed they owned a particular play on offense, say a draw play, and — through SOPA — forced every college team that imitated or recreated that play to shut down its entire playbook.

The bill does not apply outside the Internet and the widespread blackout Wednesday appears to have curbed some of the bill’s momentum, but the idea that a law could be passed to infringe on the first amendment is scary enough to warrant mention.

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