Celebrate: The Rockets are back.
The Houston Rockets provided a lot of excitement for those fans fortunate enough to catch their nationally televised broadcasts or who tuned in on NBA League Pass.
James Harden propelled the Rockets into the spotlight, as well as a whole host of role players (including Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik). The fact that they were able to step up is what enabled the Rockets to greatly outperform the expectations of most in finishing with 45 wins.
Unfortunately, the Rockets finished with the eighth seed, which resulted in a matchup against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the 2013 NBA playoffs. With Harden facing a team he was once a third option on, the Rockets are clearly outclassed.
While there may not be much of a relief on the part of the players, who are mostly new acquisitions, the fans in Houston are just glad to be back in the postseason.
The path to the postseason was marked with some highs and lows, and this writer saw most of them. In the 2012-13 season, I logged 23 Houston Rockets live blogs or game grades, and this piece will feature my favorite five games I covered here at B/R.
The Houston Rockets needed to get some wins coming into late March to make their playoff push. Coming into Utah they faced a Jazz team that was surprisingly held together after a highly talkative trade deadline period.
What made this game special was that James Harden and Jeremy Lin were clicking, as they did in the Oklahoma City Thunder upset, and they went off for 49 points on 14-of-27 shooting.
The Rockets handled a good rebounding Jazz team on the glass and were plus-9 on the boards. Houston also did a good job of getting to the line, attempting 32 free throws.
The defense was great on this night, and Jeremy Lin did a good job in transition again. A late team-up strip of Al Jefferson by James Harden and Chandler Parsons put the quash on a late Jazz run with Tyrone Corbin's team trailing by five with a minute to go.
To see the Rockets make clutch defensive plays was a big plus, and it came after a team in which they played very poor defense.
But the Rockets were pushing it too often when they needed to slow down the pace to control the clock. It was a sign of the team's inexperience, one of the things I cited as something that would improve in time and help them improve their prospects as a playoff contender.
The Golden State Warriors entered this game as four point favorites and nearly lost by double-digits.
The Warriors at that point were 16-6 at home. Their starting backcourt of Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry started showing that it could make the difference when the tandem began to get hot.
David Lee was the only player in the league in the top-10 in both points per game and rebounds, which eventually resulted in his second career All-Star appearance.
But James Harden and the Rockets were still too much for them.
The Warriors bigs kept fouling Harden and Jeremy Lin, and the Dubs defense couldn't rotate quick enough. It all came to hell in a third quarter that saw the Warriors get sloppy, turn the ball over six times and consequently find themselves down eight points going into the fourth.
The gap was never closed, despite Warriors coach Mark Jackson risking it with several starters in foul trouble on the court early in the fourth.
Christmas Day was one of the nation's first chances to catch James Harden and his men in red on the national stage.
And they didn't disappoint.
Harden and the Rockets came out and destroyed Tom Thibodeau's highly regarded defense.
Nate Robinson tried to keep the Bulls in the game with some chucking, but ultimately the Rockets were starting to show a lot of chemistry that would continue to flourish as the season went on.
Many were starting to peg the Rockets as a potential sleeper the west, and Chandler Parsons was starting to show he could be an All-Star at some point in his career. And even though Asik's averages were settling into the double-double he would eventually finish season as a full-time starter.
Late in the third quarter, the Rockets had 14 assists on 26 field goals. The ball movement was crisp and solid.
Carlos Delfino's defense sparked some fast breaks, and Jeremy Lin effectively pushed the ball in transition.
The league took notice of Houston as people settled in after their holiday dinners, and at this point the Fear the Beard hysteria was beginning to take hold.
When the Houston Rockets met with the L.A. Lakers, people were still confused as to why the Lakers were so bad. The Rockets crept away at home for a two point victory, 107-105.
The Rockets were 9-8 at that point, and were starting to have people wondering "What if...?"
The fact that the Rockets won while surrendering 39 points to Kobe Bryant, and suffering struggles from James Harden, Jeremy Lin and Chandler Parsons, spoke volumes as to the depth the Rockets had at that point.
Lin was 2-of-8 from the floor and had two turnovers. Harden was 3-of-19 and Kobe lit him up for a late three and drew the Lakers within a point before Greg Smith hit a pair of free throws.
Even Ron Metta World Peace Artest went nuts on a good defender in Parsons, scoring 15 points and helping the Lakers dominate on the court. The former Florida Gator was negative-18 for his minutes on the court against the Lakers defensive ace.
But depth kept the Rockets in this one, and they pulled it out at the end.
Toney Douglas had 22 off the bench, and Smith had 21 points and nine boards. Both were active during late third quarter runs which helped the Rockets pull away.
Kevin McHale's reserves were clicking the entire second half with key starters on the bench for long stretches, and the Rockets had a lot of depth at that point.
This game illustrated the importance of having nine or 10 guys who could come in and make a difference, and it is something Daryl Morey will strive to re-establish next season after some acquisitions this summer.
Early in the season the Houston Rockets were already starting to surprise.
And beating the red hot New York Knicks made everyone take notice.
The Knicks were soundly destroyed 131-103 in a game where James Harden shot 15 first half free throws en route to 25 first half points.
At intermission it looked as though Harden may drop a double nickel on the Knicks. He scored just eight in the second half, though, as Kevin McHale rested his two-guard for the final quarter.
Chandler Parsons was absolutely on fire, and scored 16 points in the first quarter. He hit 11-of-13 in the first half while also coming up with three steals, two assists and four boards in the first half. Parsons finished with a career high 31 points, which he reached at the mid-way point of the third quarter.
Omer Asik had a fine game with 18 points and more than holding his own against last year's Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler. Parsons, Beard and Asik showed that the Rockets had an effective trio of young stars whose values were just starting to be established at this juncture within the season.
It was a huge statement game to the rest of the NBA that the Rockets could be taken seriously and were going to stick around for a while.