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

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Should Watson be in the MVP conversation? Composite image by Jack Brame.

The 2020 NFL season has a lot going on. Even if we take the coronavirus out of it, there's still a lot to digest. There are so many great performances being put up, one can make an argument for several players to win league MVP. The quarterback position typically gets more credit than others. If I restrict the argument to quarterbacks only, we're looking at Russell Wilson, Patrick Mahomes, and Aaron Rodgers. Dalvin Cook, Alvin Kamara, and Derrick Henry are the leading contenders at running back. On defense, there really isn't a standout defender. The defense gets no love, but there are several guys in the running for NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

Deshaun Watson has been putting up numbers that have matched or rivaled some of the top MVP candidates over his last seven games. That stretch has coincided with the firing of head coach/general manager Bill O'Brien. Coincidence? I think not. Taking the reigns off a wild horse can often lead to said horse running free and flourishing! So question: Should Watson be getting league MVP considerations? I think so.

For starters, he's been one of the best players in the league over the course of the last seven games. 18 passing touchdowns and only two interceptions. The only quarterback with a better touchdown to interception ratio over that same span is Mahomes (19 and 2, as opposed to Watson's 18 & 2). Factoring in total season stats, of course Mahomes is doing much better. He's on a better team with a much better coach and general manager. The same could be said for Wilson and Rodgers. Put Watson on any of those teams and their records wouldn't be any worse than what they are now.

The Texans are 4-3 since firing O'Brien. While that isn't a great record, consider the fact they started the season 0-4 and looked like a total disaster. Watson looked like he was caged and couldn't wait to be freed. The team's record could be even better if the defense had a pulse. The proper supporting cast has a lot to do with a player's MVP candidate's chances. Now that one of his favorite weapons, Will Fuller, and the team's best corner, Bradley Roby, are both suspended for the rest of the season by the league for violating the substance abuse/PED policy, things will get much tougher for Watson.

If he continues to put up these cartoon like numbers, I don't see why he wouldn't be in the MVP conversation. He's currently fopurth in passing yards, sixth in completion percentage, tied for fifth in passing touchdowns, eighth in QBR, and third in quarterback rating. Watson is emerging as the star he was projected to be coming into the 2017 draft. I'm not saying Watson deserves to be the league MVP, but he deserves to be in the conversation. His MVP candidacy should be treated like the family gathering hierarchy: once you reach a certain age and/or status, you're no longer resigned to the kiddie table. Now you get to sit with all the adults, engage in their conversations, and gain access to things you couldn't previously. Watson won't win the MVP award, but I strongly believe he could finish top five. Especially if he keeps making lemonade with the lemons he's been given.

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