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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Texans vs. Vikings could have fans in attendance. Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images

The Houston Texans say it's time that fans were allowed to cheer on the home team at NRG Stadium. On Thursday, the team announced extensive safety protocols that would put 15,000 fans in the stands for the Week 4 game against the Minnesota Vikings on Oct. 4.

While the Texans are awaiting permission from city and county officials to host a limited number of fans - socially distant and wearing masks – no plans have been announced how much tickets will cost, and who'll have the opportunity to buy them.

You have to love the free enterprise system: hundreds of tickets for the Oct. 4 game already are on sale on secondary market websites. Lower bowl tickets are going for $800 and up. If you don't mind sitting in the nose bleeds, tickets can be had for around $250.

So the question becomes, if you had the chance, would you attend the Texans game in early October? The tickets are big bucks, and there is a whammy – COVID-19. While the rate of COVID-19 infections is on the decline in Houston, the virus remains a major factor in our daily lives, and there's no guarantee that the pandemic won't spike here again.

Here's the rub, at least for me. Of all the sports we have in Houston, a Texans game might be lowest on my wish list of attending in person. Television does NFL games the best. There are dozens of cameras, so when a receiver catches a pass on the sidelines, we get several views, in slow motion even, to see if the receiver's feet were in bounds. We can almost feel the crunch of a quarterback sack. We get highlights of other games. You don't have to sit next to a face painter like David Puddy.

The NFL is a made-for-TV production. Which is, I suspect, part of the reason the Texans rarely open the roof at NRG Stadium. With the roof closed, the field becomes a controlled TV studio, with no worries of weather pranks.

Television doesn't do basketball or baseball nearly as well. Conversely, the experience of attending those games is terrific fun. What beats eating a couple of dogs at an Astros game? Is there even a traditional food at NFL or NBA games?

The Texans promise that strict safety rules will be enforced. And I believe them. Fans will be scattered over the 67,000-seat stadium. I'm not sure how much of a home field advantage that will be. Most of the crowd noise will come from pre-recorded tapes.

Here's one worry. Sure fans will sit apart and socially distanced. But what will happen when the game is over? Will fans file out in orderly, non-contagious single file? I flew Southwest a few weeks ago. The airline makes a big deal – we don't sell the middle seat. Passengers kept their distance during the flight. When the landed, you know how it is, everybody got up and piled into the aisle, shoulder to shoulder for several minutes.

What will happen if some goofball takes off his/her mask during the Texans game? Will there be enough security to handle each case?

Baseball is planning to have some fans attend post-season games at Minute Maid Park next month. UH Cougars, the Dynamo and Dash are playing in front of small crowds. It remains to be seen how safe – or how risky – allowing fans at sports events will be.

Will parents let their kids attend? Is waiting for a vaccine the smart play? If President Trump is right, that could be only a matter of weeks away. If scientists and doctors are right, nestle in for pandemic life another year. Even if scientists do come up with a vaccine, how many Americans will roll up their sleeve? Some believe, in the case of COVID-19, the cure may be worse than the disease. Not me, the moment Dr. Fauci says the vaccine is safe and effective, I'm sprinting to CVS.

The thinnest of silver linings, if ever there was a year worth sitting out, 2020 has been it for Houston sports fans. The Astros are scratching to stay above .500 (their present position), Jose Altuve hasn't had an extra base hit or RBI in almost a month, and Justin Verlander is throwing bullpens on his way to recovery. The Rockets are searching for a new coach, and possibly another team willing to take Russell Westbrook in a trade. The Texans season could go either way, we'll know if a few short weeks.

Why the rush to fill stadiums? The NBA is thriving in a bubble. Why not baseball and football? There's a fine line between safe and sorry.

The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo already has safety plans for next year, including masks and distancing. That will be interesting. Good luck controlling crowds pushing and shoving for corn dogs and funnel cakes.

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