Best in the West?

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

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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Coogs beat the Sooners, 87-85. Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images.

Jamal Shead hit a short follow shot with 0.4 seconds left and No. 1 Houston beat Oklahoma 87-85 on Saturday night, giving coach Kelvin Sampson a victory over one of his former schools.

Shead missed a driving layup attempt, but corralled the rebound and put the Cougars back ahead after they blew a 15-point lead. Emanuel Sharp tipped away a desperation pass by Oklahoma’s Milos Uzan as time expired.

“The main thing (on the last shot) was to get it to the rim,” Sampson said. “We weren’t going to shoot anything outside of 5 feet. There were three ways to win that game — a whistle, make the shot or (grab) an offensive rebound and put it in — and we got the third one.”

Sampson credited the result to Houston’s “winning DNA. We had a lot of things go against us tonight. … We were just plugging the holes in the boat up.”

L.J. Cryer led Houston (26-3, 13-3 Big 12) with 23 points, making 5 of 9 3-pointers. J’Wan Roberts added 20 points on 10-of-12 shooting, and Shead scored 14 points. Houston shot 56.7% from the field and Oklahoma was at 52.7%.

Rivaldo Soares had 16 points for Oklahoma (19-10, 7-9). Le’Tre Darthard had 15 points, finishing 5 of 7 from 3-point range.

Sampson coached Oklahoma from 1994 to 2006 and ranks second in program history with 279 wins and first in winning percentage (.719). Before Saturday, he’d never coached against the Sooners, but Houston’s entry into the Big 12 for this basketball season provided that opportunity.

Sampson received a warm welcome as he entered the Lloyd Noble Arena court, with many fans applauding, cheering and standing. Just before player introductions, Sampson and his three assistants with Oklahoma ties — former players Hollis Price, Quannas White and Kellen Sampson, his son — were individually recognized with announcements and pictured on the video board.

“The memories that I will take from here are just amazing,” Kelvin Sampson said. “Oklahoma will always be home in a lot of ways.”

Houston made its first week this season at No. 1 a successful one, with two wins. The Cougars are a game ahead of No. 8 Iowa State in the conference standings with two games left in the regular season and remain in the conversation for the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Houston has won eight of the last nine games it has played as the No. 1-ranked team and is 35-5 overall while atop the AP poll.

Oklahoma dropped its second game of the week against a top-10 opponent, having lost 58-45 at Iowa State on Wednesday night.

The Sooners pushed Houston to the limit. Houston led 67-52 with 12:01 left, but the Sooners methodically closed that gap and Javian McCollum’s layup with 11.8 seconds left tied it at 85. It came after a hustle play by Uzan, who tracked down a rebound off a missed free throw and threw it off the leg of Sharp, allowing it to carom out of bounds.

Oklahoma coach Porter Moser said the vibe in the Sooners’ locker room was “tough. It wasn’t like they were happy to be close. They’re hurting. That’s a good sign. … That’s the elite of the elite and we’ve got to find a way to win that. That’s my job.

“I thought they were resilient battling back. Houston made tough shots, open shots, good shots. They do a lot of good things … but I thought we did too. We played the best team in the country, but we fell short. The margin of error when you play a team that good is small.”

Godwin went 6 of 6 from the field and led Oklahoma with 17 points, missing only the one free throw in six attempts as well. He also had seven rebounds.

BIG PICTURE

Houston: Sampson surely appreciated the warm welcome from fans on his return to Oklahoma, but he’s undoubtedly glad to have the emotional game against the Sooners over with. Now he can push the Cougars to focus on finishing the regular season strong and prepare them for the postseason.

Oklahoma: A win over the nation’s No. 1 team might have pushed the Sooners up a line or two in NCAA tournament seeding, but the loss shouldn’t damage their postseason hopes too much. Oklahoma probably needs at least one win next week — at home against Cincinnati or at Texas — to stay comfortably off the NCAA bubble heading into the Big 12 Tournament.

UP NEXT:

Houston: At Central Florida on Wednesday night.

Oklahoma: Host Cincinnati on Tuesday night.

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