Grounded Houston Rockets Can Celebrate Not Being New Jersey Nets

Robert Kleeman@@RobertKleemanSenior Analyst IMarch 14, 2010

The jokes are endless, and in many cases, accurate.

Vanilla Ice performed at halftime of a New Jersey Nets game. To make the Nets look good in comparison.

All NBA teams are at rest for All-Star weekend. And somehow, the Nets still lost.

Only 1,000 fans showed up to see the New Jersey Nets lose to the Milwaukee Bucks. And most of them were there hoping they'd get to play.

Pro basketball's unrivaled worst team continued the punchline Saturday night.

Early in the fourth quarter, center Brook Lopez found himself uncontested under the hoop. With no one there to block his easy dunk, Lopez did the honors, stuffing the ball below the rim.

The box score says, "Lopez layup shot: missed." It should say, "microcosm of a miserable season."

The Houston Rockets 116-108 win over the Nets did little to bring them closer to the eighth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers. If Houston hopes to reach the postseason, it will have to win out while Portland goes the way of another tri-state area squad.

Remember the Mets epic collapse a few years ago?

It's unlikely the Rockets can make up five games on a team with a bonafide superstar in Brandon Roy. Rick Adelman hopes Kevin Martin can become one when Yao Ming returns, but that remains to be seen.

For now, they can take heart in an undeniable truth. They're not the Nets.

No one predicted New Jersey's run at all-time futility, but at least a few pictured Houston in the hunt for this dubious distinction.

The Nets need three wins to avoid tying the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers for the NBA's all-time loss mark. The Rockets need just nine wins in their final 18 games to clinch a winning season sans Yao.

Someday soon, when the sting of missing the postseason eases, they can celebrate this. Miracles happen, and a furious finish could make the unthinkable a reality.

The Rockets face the Denver Nuggets, Memphis Grizzlies, and Boston Celtics this week, and all three contests are winnable. As the season-long inconsistency has shown, the team could lead by 10 in each fourth quarter and lose them all.

New Jersey shot better than 50 percent on Saturday night, led at halftime, and hung 108 points on Houston. That the Rockets required a career-high 44 points from Luis Scola to fend off the woeful Nets exacerbates some obvious shortcomings.

The Rockets won't be special until their defense is. The Nets scored 31 and 30 points in the first and fourth quarters.

The offense, too, benefited from minimal resistance. This size-challenged roster cannot expect to pile up 60 points in the paint against any of the playoff-caliber squads on the slate this week.

New Jersey did not present much of a roadblock.

Still, the W is all that matters. The Nets' best has not been enough in 59 losses.

Saturday, Jarvis Hayes played the game of his life. He drilled four three-pointers, making several of them off balance, en route to 16 points.

Devin Harris went 7-15 from the field, including several jumpers over Kyle Lowry's outstretched arm. He added seven assists.

Lopez scored 22 points and hauled down 10 rebounds.

Other numbers explain the futility. After halftime, Lopez finished just 2-6. He turned the ball over seven times and committed five fouls.

When the Rockets exude their best, they win.

Even if the embarrassment was unforeseen, it's hard to imagine the Nets winning again without a major roster overhaul. Lopez and Harris boast the talent to succeed, but what about the rest of the bunch?

They started 0-18, fired dedicated coach Lawrence Frank and have become the ultimate unacceptable loss on 29 other squads' schedules.

A loss to New Jersey signals the apocalypse. The world did not end at the Toyota Center the way it seemingly had at TD Garden in Boston a few weekends ago. 

The Rockets clearly boast pieces that would be helpful on a championship team. With some tweaks and a healthy Yao, this roster can do more than just make the playoffs.

A playoff spot remains a possibility, even if a remote one. The sun still shines over the Buffalo Bayou.

The swamp? Bruce Ratner cannot wait to relocate the franchise to Brooklyn, where a Russian tycoon is expected to spend the money to build a winner.

Fans half-fill a lifeless Izod Center and cheer on a seven-win team that doesn't want to play there.

A crowd of 16,998 watched the Rockets edge the lowly Nets.

The team and its fans will willingly return to the downtown Houston arena next season.

Jokes aside, this isn't New Jersey.

Things could be worse. Seven wins and 59 losses worse.

Scola and the rest of the Rockets can be thankful for that.


Another word on Scola

LeBron James' career high in field goals made is 19. Scola drained 20 of his 25 attempts in Saturday's win.

For those who adore understatement, the guy is pretty good.

He may give up height in a given matchup, but he rarely surrenders a loose ball or loses the hustle battle.

His 0-for-five dud against the Orlando Magic in a blowout loss was an exception. Is there any doubt the Spurs would have a fifth banner hanging in the AT&T Center rafters had they kept him instead of donating his rights to the Rockets?

Scola wouldn't just crack the Spurs' rotation. He would play a key role on any contender.


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