Dear Rockets fans, and by that I mean the jewelry rattlers who "occupy" the club seats in the lower bowl. I come to you with a plea.
The men you shell out thousands to "watch" on the hardwood each year close out the home slate against the Dallas Mavericks tonight. The game starts at 7:30 p.m., not 8:15 p.m. I am writing to this wealthy, entitled group--even though I know this quest is futile--because the cause matters to me.
I have to place the words "occupy" and "watch" in quotes because I'm not sure what the hell many of you are doing just after tip-off. Enjoying that lampshade you just bought on Ebay via your iPhone. Did the bartender get the cocktail mix right? How are the kids? Is the weather to your liking?
See, I still harbor this silly, puerile belief that spectators fork up that kind of dough to see the action up close and make noise. The loudest sound emanating from those sections is often the pitter-patter of feet rushing up the stairs to exit the arena when the score is knotted with six minutes remaining.
Why spend all that money if you are determined to bolt before the teams decide the outcome? Why come at all?
The Rockets remain Houston's best approximation of a winner. Rick Adelman has figured out how to maximize this undersized, All-Star-less roster's crop of talent. Few teams in the association played better basketball after the mid-season showcase in L.A.
Houston, at one juncture, won 15 of 20 and sprinted to within sniffing distance of the Western Conference's eighth seed. Please keep in mind that the New York Knicks, with an identical record (42-38), will finish as high as sixth in the East.
Not that you noticed the run or cared. The atmosphere in the last month has been less than spectacular, and consider that understatement a gift from a nice guy.
The Toyota Center was half-empty when the hated Utah Jazz visited in March. At least 3,000 Boston Celtics fans, decked out in green apparel, were roaming the arena in trash talk mode while the Red Rowdies tried to salvage home court with the usual pre-game romp. Don't get me started on that deafening "Go Spurs Go" chant San Antonio fans delivered in the final seconds of a tight defeat.
You should have been embarrassed after that takeover. When Chuck Hayes and Kyle Lowry appear in a pre-recorded video on the center-court scoreboard and call you "the best fans in the NBA," I wonder how they managed to stifle the laughter and vomit long enough to finish the segment. The Rockets have to sell season tickets, so maybe unjustified sucking up helps.
Do not dismiss this letter as a vicious attack. Instead, consider it a challenge. For one night, I'm asking you to give a damn.
The Mavericks will invade Houston looking to sweep the season series. The Lakers' fifth consecutive loss Sunday night again opened the door to the second seed for Dallas. Ask Dirk Nowitzki which he'd prefer, opening the conference semi-finals at American Airlines Center or Staples Center, and he'll pick the former 10 times out of 10.
Home-court advantage in a playoff series is something to covet and treasure, even if it guarantees nothing. The only way the Rockets can triumph in this terrible matchup is if you give them one.
If the good guys amass a run, act like you appreciate the hustle. If Patrick Patterson flushes another monster putback on the stone-walled Dallas frontline, make the Mavericks feel it with your volume. For goodness sakes, would it hurt to yell "defense" once in a while?
This team struggles on that end, if you didn't know. The Rockets will need to hope Peja Stojakovic and Jason Terry miss high-percentage looks because the other three games suggest they'll be wide open. Hayes, for all his defensive prowess in the post, cannot prevent Jason Kidd from connecting with Tyson Chandler on alley-oops.
It will take an A+ scoring effort, fortitude and good fortune to close the deal. Nowitzki is not a choke artist, and his clutch statistics support that argument. He loves to toy with the Rockets, treating whatever defense they throw his way as some Fisher-Price item for kids.
That means your effort will matter as much tonight as the players' production. The organization dubbed it "Red Nation Appreciation Night," but it is, instead, your last chance to appreciate the team for coalescing as a winner does.
Players will dole out free stuff from the locker room. Expect plenty of prizes. The Toyota Tundra T-Shirt Toss seems to be the only thing that gets you juiced these days.
You dropped several thousand to sit in the expensive seats, yet a free shirt you might never wear gets you more excited than anything the Rockets do.
The end-game atmosphere against the Washington Wizards in late December was terrific. Start there.
Put down the Kindle, save the bar for later and beat the traffic another day. Come early and stay late. Send off these Rockets in the dignified, roaring manner they deserve.
GM Daryl Morey knows this roster is far from championship contention, and he will continue to do everything possible to upgrade the talent base and a sagging, porous defense. Cheer these Rockets for making the most of a once lost season. Applaud them for coming together in a way few considered plausible months ago.
Morey's "no one is untouchable" stance means a player you enjoyed watching might get the heave-ho this summer, or whenever the lockout ends.
A work stoppage, for that matter, makes a noisy venue tonight all the more imperative. You might not see the professional basketball team suit up again until 2012.
Stand up for Lowry, who outplayed a slew of elite point guards in March and became a dead-eye triple bomber. Stand up for Hayes, who never let his 6'6" frame handicap his dogmatism. He belongs on one of the league's All-Defense units.
Stand up for Luis Scola, who remains the embodiment of an honest effort. Stand up for Kevin Martin, who led the NBA in free throw attempts by a sizable margin. He did it with a simple fake that opponents still bite like a dog chew. He even approached the franchise record for freebies in a season.
Stand up for Goran Dragic and Patterson. Stand up for Courtney Lee and Chase Budinger. Even stand up for Jordan Hill and Brad Miller.
Stand up because fans at a sporting event should. If you want your Rockets to topple the Mavericks, prove it by yelling until your throat is hoarse.
Rowdy for a day? I know you have it in you.
Maybe on this Monday night, you can rattle the opponent instead of your car keys and that pearl necklace.
The Rockets need it. No, they deserve it.
Naive member of the Red Rowdies