Sound smart for game one

The Rockets playoff guide for casual fans

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Congratulations, Houston. The second most disliked team in the league finally made it to the regular season finish line, drawing a first round showdown with the Utah Jazz in the process. Sunday night marks the start of the Rockets' quest to erase last season's heartbreaking postseason conclusion--one that still seems statistically impossible.

But we're not here to talk about that.

We're here to get primed for some sweet first-round playoff action, and once again I'm shouldering the burden of informing the sort of informed. I'm proud to present the preeminent Rockets Playoff Guide For Casual Fans.

How did the Rockets get here

The Rockets stumbled into an 11-14 record to start the season, leaving Rockets players and fans alike searching for answers. That answer came in the form of James Harden, who suddenly started seeing all of the codes in The Matrix and began breaking basketball. The Rockets would ride on the shoulders of their MVP candidate guard--in addition to a few key in-season free agent acquisitions--to finish 42-15, with an overall record of 53-29. A heartbreaking loss on the final night of the regular season dropped the Rockets from a potential second seed playoff berth to the fourth seed.

How did the Jazz get here

The Jazz started even slower than the Rockets, hovering near the bottom of the western conference standings with a 14-17 record. Anchored by a suffocating defense and young star Donovan Mitchell, the Jazz--sitting at 20-20--ripped off a 6-game win streak in early January and never looked back. The Jazz finished with a 50-32 record on the season.

Know your Rockets

James Harden - Superstar shooting guard. Reigning NBA MVP. Possibly the greatest isolation player in the history of basketball. Harden is frustratingly lethal from every spot on the court. If he's on the court, the offense will go through Harden. That offense usually consists of Harden breaking down his defender and either scoring easily, or finding an open player as a result of the opponent leaving their assignment to try and stop him. He's going to dribble a lot, he's going to miss a lot of threes, but he's also going to make a lot. James Harden is a player you either love or hate, there's no in between.

Chris Paul - Hall of Fame bound point guard. Paul is a legendary point guard in the twilight of his career. His ability to operate an offense is rivaled by very few. Paul is essentially the only Rocket allowed to shoot mid range shots, primarily because it's unguardable. He's also the guy in the State Farm commercials that you're going to see fifty times during the game, so that will be fun.

Eric Gordon - Small forward. Versatile scorer that can drive the lane and shoot from deep. Regarded as the Rockets' second best scoring option. Sometimes called "Splash Gordon," which is a play off of "Flash Gordon," which is a play off of, well, Eric Gordon. Seems a little too meta, but what do I know? Gordon looks like the kind of guy who would remind a teacher to pick up the homework you forgot to do after the dismissal bell rings.

PJ Tucker - Power forward. Bulldog defender with a lethal spot-up corner three shot. Tucker is the kind of player you love when he's on your team and can't stand when he's on the other team. By body language reaction alone, it is clear that PJ Tucker is the most unjustly officiated player in the history of basketball. As of January 29, PJ Tucker had worn over $100K in shoes on the court. So yeah. Dude's got a hobby.

Clint Capela - Center. Athletic 7-footer that can run the court and defend the paint. Capela will be on the receiving end of roughly 70,000 alley oops by the end of the first round of the playoffs, and those just never get old. Clint Capela comes off as the kind of guy that texts his mom after every game, and that's a good thing.

Know your enemy

Donovan Mitchell - Jazz star guard. Can score from anywhere. The Jazz will need him to play his best basketball if they're going to keep up with the Rockets. Wears number 45, which is weird. Has a kind face. Most likely Jazz player to be ID'd at a movie theater.

Ricky Rubio - Point guard. Veteran pass-first floor general. Dangerous when driving for a layup, not so dangerous from beyond the arc. Has been caught on the wrong end of a few James Harden cooking sessions. Looks like a guy that would recommend an album "you probably haven't heard of before," from a good second-hand vinyl shop. Also looks like a guy who has been talked out of getting dreads several different times.

Rudy Gobert - Center. Likely defensive player of the year once again. Gobert is 7' 1", has an albatross-like 7' 9" wingspan, and practically shuts down the paint single-handedly. Efficient scorer from around the rim. The "T" in Gobert is silent, which makes it the fanciest last name on the team. I've googled "Gobert in a beret," more times than anyone should. One day it will pay off.

Derrick Favors - Power forward. Defensive minded grinder. Averaged 12 points, 7 rebounds, and one block per game. I don't know, he's Derrick Favors. He's pretty boring.

Joe Ingles - Small forward. Wily veteran with deceptive scoring ability. Now when I say deceptive, what I mean is that Joe Ingles looks like he probably wouldn't be picked first in a pick-up game at Lifetime Fitness. His actual nickname is "Slow-mo Joe."

He's also my favorite.

When you shoot a career 40% from behind the arc, you don't have to be fast. They should call him "Quigley Down Under," instead because he's Australian, and a sharpshooter, and just as cool as Tom Selleck. Actually, that's a bad nickname, don't call him that. Prepare to be frustrated when the least athletic player on the court by a wide margin takes charges, spaces the court for Mitchell, and buries 3-pointers in everyone's faces. Once again, Joe Ingles is the best.

Prediction

The Jazz are a good team, but Houston is white hot. They'll run circles around Utah's slower interior bigs, drag them out to the three point line with offensive switches and fly by them for easy layups. When Utah tries to keep their bigs in the paint, Houston will rain threes from deep. I think Utah has enough fight to take one or two, but I expect the Rockets to glide into the second round without much issue.

Rockets in 6.

10 QUESTIONS FOR TILMAN FERTITTA

Tilman Fertitta wants you to shut up and listen with new book

Photo by J. Thomas Ford

This article originally appeared on CultureMap.

Tilman Fertitta can't lose. Sitting in his palatial office nestled in the towering Post Oak Hotel in Uptown, the sole owner of Fertitta Entertainment, the restaurant giant Landry's, the Golden Nugget Casinos and Hotels, and the NBA's Houston Rockets — not to mention the star of the TV reality show Billion Dollar Buyer — is taking a quick moment to bask in his success.

And why not? On top of being the world's richest restauranteur and Houston's most recognizable billionaire, Fertitta currently boasts a best seller with his new business book, Shut Up and Listen! As CultureMap reported, he just acquired Del Frisco's luxury steakhouse chain, adding to his impressive and extensive restaurant empire. And speaking of acquisitions: Soon, his Houston Rockets will unleash the powerhouse duo of James Harden and new teammate Russell Westbrook, who came to Houston in a massive trade with Oklahoma City.

Fertitta has just made the national media rounds promoting Shut Up and Listen! and looked quite comfortable doing so. "A lot of owners don't talk to the media and they don't know how to do it," he tells CultureMap, "but I've been doing it for 30 years and it just doesn't phase me."Shut Up and Listen! is a Tilman tell-all. But rather than a life story, the book is a how-to for the business-minded. No-nonsense nuggets such as the "Tilmanisms" teach principles such as the 95/5 rule (focus on the 5 percent of the operation that isn't perfect and fix it) and offer hardcore reminders such as "when things are bad, eat the weak and grow your business." Doubters, take note: Shut Up has landed on the Publishers Weekly's and USA Today's Best Sellers lists.

CultureMap sat down with Fertitta during a rare break to talk books, business, and his beloved Bayou City.

CultureMap: You’re a Texan titan of industry, a major local benefactor, you own one of the most buzzworthy teams in all of pro sports, and you’re the star of your own reality TV show. Can we now say — in Houston — that you’re way bigger than Mark Cuban?

Tilman Fertitta: [Laughs] Oh, I don't know about that. Mark is a special guy and we're lucky to have him in Texas.

CM: You’ve been actively involved with the Rockets and the University of Houston sports programs. Using your 95/5 rule, can you share any of the 5 percent of what you found wrong with the Rockets and UH?

TF: At UH, the 5 percent was we wanted to have good coaches and we wanted to improve our facilities. That's the 5 percent we realized that if we wanted to compete at the highest level of basketball and football, that's what we'd have to do.

For the Rockets, we're gonna make sure we can put the basketball team we can on the court with the best coaches every single year. I'm not a sit-on-my-hands guy — it's let's keep getting better.

CM: Why is giving back to your hometown important to you?

TF: This is where I grew up and Houston's been very good to me. I've been around a long time and I've watched people come and go in the '80s, the '90s, the 2000s, and the 2010s. It's fun to have lasted this long and been a player through so many decades.

CM: There’s an old adage that says, ‘Do one thing and do it well.’ But you’re doing a lot of things well. When do you know, as a business owner, to diversify?

TF: Systems and operations are very important. Everybody wants to do more deals. If you understand the Big Box Theory, you make more out of a bigger box. In the beginning, I knew I always wanted to be successful. Today, I know what I know and I know — and what I don't know.

Continue on CultureMap to learn which books inspired Tilman Fertitta, and much more.

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