Will The Houston Rockets Land On National Television?

Robert Kleeman@@RobertKleemanSenior Analyst IDecember 27, 2009

DALLAS - DECEMBER 18:  Guard Aaron Brooks #0 of the Houston Rockets takes a shot against Tim Thomas #7 of the Dallas Mavericks on December 18, 2009 at American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

When the NBA released its national TV schedule this fall, the Houston Rockets joined four other teams deemed not worthy of an appearance on ESPN, ABC, or TNT.

The Toronto Raptors and Oklahoma City were each slated for one national TV appearance.

The omission was understandable at the time. The NBA and its partnering networks still sell stars, and with Yao Ming out for the season and Tracy McGrady's return uncertain, the Rockets presumably employed none.

Of the four other teams shafted, the Milwaukee Bucks and Sacramento Kings played their way onto ESPN. The 2-29 New Jersey Nets and road-challenged Charlotte Bobcats have done nothing to help their cases for a country-wide showing.

The four-letter network decided to pick up a Friday Bucks-Thunder match-up in Oklahoma City.

Brandon Jennings, Kevin Durant, and Tyreke Evans undoubtedly played a large role in swaying network execs to show their teams.

Jennings threw up 55 points in the Bucks home win over the Golden State Warriors. Performances like that tend to grab attention.

Durant ranked in the top five in scoring when ESPN added the second Thunder contest to its slate.

Evans has helped near-.500 Sacramento reach respectability after last year's 17-win train wreck of a season. Even better for GM Geoff Petrie, Evans has flashed the star potential many thought he did not possess.

The Rockets held off the desperate but awful Nets Saturday night 98-93, moving up to 18-12, and I felt compelled to ask the question again.

Will Houston join Oklahoma City, Milwaukee, and Sacramento as a late national TV addition? Will this playoff hopeful get love from a network other than NBATV?

The league's official channel does qualify as "national" since many from around the country can watch it. Unlike ESPN and TNT, though, it is usually not included in standard cable packages.

Many digital cable and satellite subscribers must pay an extra monthly fee to get to the hoops station.

The Rockets have proved better than most outside of Houston expected. A team shunned for its lack of star power and size has stunned with relentless resilience and a fun-to-watch fastbreak style.

With the season's quarter mark well in the rear-view mirror, the squad's resume boasts wins over the L.A. Lakers, Utah Jazz, Dallas Mavericks, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Portland Trail Blazers.

The Rockets hammered the Lakers and Jazz on the road, both impressive feats.

At present, they would get a higher playoff seed than the New Orleans Hornets and San Antonio Spurs.

I predicted the team would finish with more than 30 victories and less than 50. The Rockets are on pace to win more than 40 contests.

I would still be shocked to see this bunch win a playoff round, but then again, the three networks often schedule games with one-and-done teams because they have star names.

As long as Gilbert Arenas plays, the sub-.500 Washington Wizards will be attractive to some tube bosses. There is no results-related reason, however, to showcase them more than the Rockets.

The same goes for a few other mediocre squads.

The closest thing the Rockets have to a star is Carl Landry, who scored at least 20 points for the 15th time this season in Saturday's triumph. On some nights, Aaron Brooks and Trevor Ariza look the part.

If they continue to win, isn't that enough?

Shane Battier may be the last player called during the starting introductions at Toyota Center, a tell-tale sign of the team's banged-up state, but that has not inhibited the fun on-court product.

I can think of few Rocket teams since Hakeem Olajuwon retired I would rather watch than this one.

I have a suspicion viewers from other states would react the same way if ESPN or TNT offered them a vantage point.

Stars sell but success should, too. How many times can a network show a team with a star or two get its ass kicked in front of a few million NBA fans?

This team rarely gives up, instead sometimes succumbing to its weaknesses.

Last year's edition, the one Ron Artest was supposed to help reach the promised land, laid a serious egg in a November game against the Dallas Mavericks on ESPN.

The Toyota Center was less than half-full for tipoff, a sure-fire embarrassment for the players and the city. The team responded in kind with a half-hearted effort. Yao Ming's absence was not a suitable enough excuse for the beatdown.

The Mavs won by 10, more handily than the score might indicate.

This bunch could make amends and then some.

A Few Upcoming Games Execs Should Consider Televising:

Fri Jan 22 @ San Antonio

Wed Jan 27 vs Denver

Fri Jan 29 vs Portland

Fri Feb 26 vs San Antonio

Fri April 2 @ Boston

Will the Rockets land on national TV?


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