It's hard to believe, but the season is already one fourth over. And how has the home team fared? Pretty darned well, considering.
Despite the absence of their top two stars, the Rockets are over .500, both at home and on the road. They have outscored their opponents by running the court, exactly as promised by their owner and head coach before the season started. But that's not all - they have maintained their defensive focus, shutting down some of the strongest players in the league. And get this - the Rockets have outrebounded their opponents despite the fact that they start a 6' 6" center and the starters average only 6' 6". Describe this team in a word. That's easy. "Hustle." This is an easy team to root for and a fun team to watch. That's not to say that they will finish in the playoffs or above .500 for the season, but the outlook is good for both.
Still, there are weaknesses. Trevor Ariza is a good defender and hard worker, but he is not filling the bill as a go-to scorer. He is shooting a respectable 34% from the 3-point line, but is only hitting 39% overall. He barely has more points than FGA, the minimum standard for effective offense. That's not good enough to take this team to the NBA finals. Battier and Scola are doing their jobs, but neither can carry a team. Aaron Brooks and Kyle Lowry have both been playing well and as a duo have manned the point efficiently - on average. That's one big problem. Neither Brooks nor Lowry are consistent night in and night out. Fortunately, if one is playing well and the other not, Rick Adelman is smart enough to let the hot man stay in the game. That brings me to the bright spot of the season: Chuck Hayes. He outplayed Shaquille Oneal last night in every way. Hayes is a great defender. Not a great defender for his height. A great defender, period. Granted, he will never block many shots, but once you get past Bill Russell and Hakeem Olajuwon, not many defensive centers do. The smart ones play defense with their feet, body and brain.
Mention must also be made of the coaching staff, starting of course, with Rick Adelman. He has taken a bunch of role-playing spare parts and made them into a finely-tuned engine. Kudos as well to Elston Turner, Jack Sikma, T. R. Dunn and R. J. Adelman. Good job, guys.
If this quarter's report card is based exclusively on their record, the Rockets get a C+. If we're grading on the curve because of the injured stars, this team gets straight A's.