Best in the West?

Patrick Creighton: Hey Rockets fans, stop doubting and get on board

Astros fans took a while to come around. Are Rockets fans doing the same thing? Elsa/Getty Images

It’s a phenomenon that I had not previously encountered before moving to Houston, and apparently it isn’t one that has completely passed.

As the Astros marched to a 101-win season, division title, and their first World Series Championship in franchise history, defeating the three biggest historical franchises along the way, I noticed something I didn’t understand.  It wasn’t subtle either.

Many Astros fans weren’t spending the season reveling in the success of the team, joyful to see such an incredible offense blast its way to 101 wins.  They were waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Almost expecting disaster to come at any moment, it seemed as if many fans were jumping on and off the bandwagon with every ebb and flow of positive and negative news.  Fans just couldn’t seem to fully embrace the team.

This is somewhat manifested in the support the team received at home.  The Astros, despite the third best record in baseball and the best record in the American League for a large majority of the season, were only 15th in average attendance at 29,675 per game. That’s only 72% of Minute Maid Park’s 41,168 capacity.

Teams like the Giants (64 wins), Blue Jays (76), Angels (80), Rangers (78), Braves (72), and Mets (70) all drew greater average attendance than Houston did, despite being mediocre to awful teams.

Even during the World Series, I saw a disproportionate number of people on social media predicting doom and gloom for the Astros every time they lost.  It didn’t make sense. It was like the fans of the team were conditioned to expect disaster even in the face of the ultimate success.

This was a foreign concept to me, coming from New York, where every winning streak sent the fans into frenzy that a championship was on the horizon.  

Where was the energy, the faith, the positivity?  Where was the blind devotion that sports fans have for their teams, especially in good times?

I have encountered so many Astros fans that are kicking themselves because they didn’t truly believe in the team for such long stretches, and they missed out on a lot of fun in the process because they were too busy expecting disaster.

The Houston Rockets have the best record in the NBA, 2 games ahead of Golden State with 15 to play. They are on the verge of breaking their own single season record for most wins.  James Harden is on his way to becoming the MVP of the league.

So, why are so many fans not fully buying in?

You know some of them.  I know you do. They’re everywhere.  People grousing “Harden will choke in the playoffs” or “Run and gun doesn’t work in the playoffs” or “They still aren’t as good as the Warriors” and other silliness rooted more in a lack of faith than in any legitimately founded reason.

Some are quick to point to last season’s final playoff game where an exhausted Harden could barely move, let alone carry his team over San Antonio.  Perhaps if the Rockets had another legitimate ball handler and distributor, it wouldn’t have been solely on Harden to do everything to generate offense for himself and his teammates.  This year he has Chris Paul, one of the best ball handlers and distributors in the game. I’m sure I don’t have to dwell on whether or not the two of them can coexist at this point in the season.

The Rockets may not have acquired a third superstar (Thank you Lord for keeping Melo out of Houston) but in reality, they may already have a big four with the way Eric Gordon scores from off the bench (18.7 PPG) and the continuing growth of Clint Capela (14.2 PPG 11 RPG 65.2% FG) as a big man. That foursome can legitimately be looked at among the best in the NBA.

Let’s put that in perspective, and compare the Rockets Big Four of Harden, Paul, Gordon and Capela with Golden State’s Big Four of Curry, Durant, Thompson and Green.  This seems preposterous, right? Golden State’s Big Four is the best in the NBA by a mile, right? Not remotely.

The Warriors Big Four combine to average 83.8 PPG, 23.6 RPG, and 21.6 APG.  The Rockets Big Four average 83.5 PPG, 24 RPG, and 20 APG. That’s basically a dead heat, and the Rockets have the better supporting cast.  Plus, 67 games is a significant enough sample size. If you haven’t come around that the Rockets are capable of beating the Warriors, and you are not a Dubs fan, it’s because you secretly hate yourself.

And for the old timers who still think uptempo offense can’t win in the playoffs: A) Golden State has two of the past three titles playing that way and B) the Rockets have won using paces among the highest and lowest this season in large spurts.

Rockets fans: don’t make the same mistake so many Astros fans made last season.  Don’t sit around waiting for the other shoe to drop. This is a historically good Rockets team, projecting to be the best Rockets team of all time.  Embrace it. Revel in it. Strap in and hang on.

The season is so much more exciting when you do!

Patrick Creighton is the host of “Nate & Creight” heard Mon-Fri 1-3p on SportsMap 94.1FM, and hosts “Sports & Shenanigans” Sundays 12-5p CT on SB Nation Radio.  Follow him on Twitter: @pcreighton1

Things are not going well, even when Paul and Harden are both healthy. Tim Warren/Getty Images

Sometimes sports do a great job of making people look silly. Take, for example, last week when I predicted that the Rockets would go undefeated this week. With a slate of just near .500 or below teams, a fully healthy Rockets squad, and a group that had just recently embarrassed San Antonio and Chicago, it seemed like a safe call. What I've learned from the past three games, however, is that there is nothing predictable about this Houston Rockets team, as constructed.

Instead of a sweep, the Rockets were swept.

Tuesday night the Rockets were completely dismantled by the Minnesota Timberwolves. Leading 62-48 at the half, Houston imploded and followed with a 29-55 second half. James Harden would lead the Rockets as usual with 29 points, but beyond himself and Capela's 24 points, there was zero support as the next highest scorer was Eric Gordon with 10. The loss dropped Houston to 11-12 for the season.

Thursday gave the Rockets yet another opportunity to climb back to .500 against an equally underperforming Utah Jazz team. It looked as though fortune was swinging Houston's way when Utah's defensive anchor, Rudy Gobert, earned an early ejection, but instead it seemed that the send off galvanized Utah fans and Jazz alike. The result was a very thorough dusting of the Rockets, behind a 24 point, 10 rebound performance from Derrick Favors. Houston saw five separate players in double digits, but none higher than Harden's 15. Houston shot 8-36 from 3-point range as they fell to 11-13 on the season.

Saturday the Rockets traveled to Dallas for a quick rematch following last week's blowout defeat. It looked like Houston would finally be off the schneid until the dad-bod himself, Luka Doncic fired off 11 straight points to leapfrog the Rockets late in the fourth. Doncic would finish with 21 points against the Rockets. Harden would once again lead Houston in scoring with 35 points and 8 assists. Chris Paul followed with 23 points and 8 assists. Their third straight loss would drop the Rockets to 11-14. After 25 regular season games, Houston is now 14th out of 15 Western Conference teams.

Short on Excuses

Until now, there's been an easily explainable reason behind Houston's slow start. At first it was a matter of missing either Harden or Paul. Then it was a matter of health. Then their defense. And then their poor shooting.

The issue now is that every one of those excuses is null. The team is as healthy as it's been this season. Rockets' defensive guru Jeff Bzdelik has returned to the sideline. Houston's offense remains rated one of the best in the league prior to this week.

There comes a point in the season where, despite the team's potential, you have to begin to judge a team based off of their record. And at this point in the season, Houston just doesn't look good.

Looking ahead

Houston had their chance to notch a few victories and they squandered it. Now they get to face the meat of the conference, with matchups against the Trail Blazers Tuesday, the Lakers Thursday, and Memphis Saturday. What you have there is competition against the 5th, 6th, and 7th seeds, which doesn't bode well after being stomped by the 11th and 13th seeds just this past week. Nothing about the Rockets makes sense anymore and until there's any semblance of inspired play, I don't expect Houston to win any of these contests.



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