Del Olaleye: 3 Reasons the Rockets are hosting Game 1 of the conference finals

P.J. Tucker was a nice offseason addition. Christian Petersen/Getty Images

We’re on the verge on what most basketball people will say was inevitable. It is the matchup “we’ve all been waiting for” and has been frequently positioned as the matchup “we all expected.” That narrative has been true for quite some time but it wasn’t that way before the season and I think pretending that it was does a disservice to the Rockets. There were reasons to not believe in the Rockets before the season started. Specifically, whatever the hell James Harden was doing in Game 6 against the Spurs. It seems dumb now but there were plenty of new and unproven parts that made the Rockets a question mark. Houston used a 65-win regular season to answer a number of those questions. Dismantling the Wolves and the Jazz was the prelude to the impending Death Star that is the Warriors. Here are some of the reasons the Rockets will open Game 1 of the Western Conference finals at home.

1) Harden and Paul coexisting

The obvious first question regarding the Rockets was the Harden/Paul dynamic. How would these two ball-dominant players co-exist? Just fine as it turns out. We’ve seen it all year. Taking turns hasn’t been an issue when they’re both on the floor. They both spend enough of time as the primary ball handler while the other rests on the bench that each has time to be the lead dog without deferring to the other. Credit goes to Mike D’Antoni and his system for creating opportunities for each player to thrive. Both have playoff failures that they’re trying to erase. As it turns out each player might be the best thing for the other’s legacy.

2) The Journeymen

Long thought to be consumed with having three stars on his team, Daryl Morey’s apparent failure to acquire Paul George or Carmelo Anthony in the offseason helped lead to the emergence of PJ Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute on this Rockets roster. Their additions gave the Rockets a defensive presence that didn’t exist on previous Harden-era teams. The addition of Mbah a Moute came later in the summer and didn’t have the name recognition of Tucker’s but his defensive prowess this season has not gone unnoticed. The two combined have added a surprising offensive boost as well. Tucker’s corner 3s always seem to be made at important junctures. Mbah a Moute has proven to be a better than expected driver and finisher. His ability to take advantage of opponents that are caught trying to rotate to open Rockets surrounding the arc has been a boon. These offseason additions combined with Trevor Ariza and Eric Gordon make the Rockets a versatile force on the defensive end and their varying skills offensively put stress on a opposing defenses as Harden or Paul orchestrate the offense.

Gordon, Ariza, Tucker and Mbah a Moute have each played for at least three different NBA teams. Ariza is the most well-traveled in the NBA, playing for six different teams. Tucker spent five years abroad, playing for seven different teams around the world. The four 30-somethings got it done all year long.

3) Emergence of Capela

After 82 games and several great performances in the playoffs, Clint Capela appears to be garnering all the attention he deserves. The record when Capela, Paul and Harden play is now 50-5. Credit to the people who decided to start keeping that stat. The late first rounder from the 2014 draft has become the fulcrum for the Rocket’s offense as his screen setting and finishing puts the opposing big man in awkward positions. “Do I push up on Chris Paul to take away the mid-range jumper or hang back to avoid a tip dunk or layup from Capela?”

Altered shots may not be an official statistic but the hesitation that Jazz players entered the lane with when Capela was on the floor was evident.  Outplaying Karl Anthony-Towns and Rudy Gobert in back-to-back series certainly came at an opportune time for the impending restricted free agent. Daryl Morey’s decision on whether or not to retain Capela when Paul George and potentially Kawhi Leonard will be available is an interesting one for the Rockets GM. Another big performance in a series win over the Warriors may make Capela an untouchable with Houston.


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Many of the games have been hard to watch. Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

They say that breaking up is hard to do, then comes the rebuilding, and that's where the real pain happens. Last week, the 4-9 Rockets lost a tough game, 103-91, to the very average San Antonio Spurs at Toyota Center. That night, Ben McLemore scored 21 points, while P.J. Tucker contributed four points.

Every other point for the Rockets was scored by a player who wasn't on the team last year. That's no way to build a fan base of young people, or older people, or anybody. Because of COVID restrictions, the Rockets can sell only 3,000 tickets to games, and they're still having to offer special deals like four tickets and four drinks (soda, water, wine or beer) for $79.

The night the Rockets fell to the Spurs, DeMarcus Cousins was out with an ankle injury (surprise), John Wall was out with a sore knee (shock), and Eric Gordon sat with a lower leg injury (stunning). They were not sidelined by COVID protocol, it was age creakiness. All three are on the other side of 30. All have a history of missing games because of injuries. Danuel House also missed the game because of a bad back and COVID protocol.

The Rockets took to the floor with able-bodied Mason Jones, David Nwaba, Rodions Kurucs, Kenyon Martin Jr., Jae'Sean Tate and Christian Wood. They're nice players, for sure, they're on an NBA roster. But the NBA is a megastar-driven operation. How many of them would you recognize if they were standing behind you at Costco? The way the Rockets sign, trade and cut players, many or most of the current roster won't be around next year. Becoming a fan of a current Rocket is like falling in love with the Rug Doctor you rented for the weekend at a supermarket. It's going back Monday.

Last year, the head coach was Mike D'Antoni, the general manager was Daryl Morey. Both are established and respected figures in the league. Would you recognize the Rockets new coach Stephen Silas? Can you even name the Rockets new general manager?

And that's how you sink to 14th place in the Western Conference standings, inevitably a lottery team, the end to the Rockets' eight-year run of making the playoffs … the longest current streak in the NBA. The 2021 Rockets aren't just a lousy product, it's worse, they're a boring team. Gordon and Tucker, maybe the two most popular Rockets veterans, are rumored to be traded soon. Fans will have abandonment issues.

Maybe the Rockets should offer something stiffer than beer on "Guys Night Out" next Thursday when the Portland Trail Blazers visit Toyota Center. Good seats available.

That's not what you want to see

Did you see where the New York Mets fired their general manager Jared Porter because he sent explicit, uninvited, unanswered text messages to a female reporter?. Porter absolutely deserved to lose his job. What he did was awful and cruel. More than just losing his job, he should be committed to a home for the terminally stupid. Who does something that moronic? So unconscionable and abusive, on top of being job-killing.

But not all junk shots are meant to be hurtful – here's one that's actually funny, and totally inadvertent and innocent. Several years ago, a local sportscaster not only took a photo of his naked, anatomically correct body, he posted it on Facebook for all of his friends, indeed the world, to see. I won't name the local sportscaster because he was the victim of his own innocent lack of focus. It could have happened to anybody. Not me, thankfully, but anybody else.

Here's how it happened. The sportscaster was taking a shower, and when he emerged, he noticed his kitten curled up in the bathroom sink. Aw, isn't that cute? The sportscaster grabbed his phone and took a photo.

And posted it on Facebook. He didn't notice that, in the background of the photo, in the mirror, was his naked body. You can't say he was butt naked because it was full frontal nudity. You can't say it was a wardrobe malfunction because there was no wardrobe involved. Fortunately his wife noticed the mishap and told the sportscaster to delete the photo.

Here's the real problem, and his solid alibi. Whoever thought it was a good idea to put huge, wide mirrors in the bathroom, especially opposite the bath tub? There's a good look, you're naked, dripping wet, with patches of soap you missed rinsing off. This should be a fleeting disturbing image, not one to be preserved on film or online. Solution: don't bring your phone, or any photographic equipment, into the bathroom. We've all taken accidental photos. Nobody needs to see a photo of your disgusting body. You are not Michelangelo's statue of David. I don't let my dog watch me take a shower or any other business conducted in the bathroom. There is a reason that bathroom doors have locks. Use them.

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