In 10 days or so, you’re going to know more about the Houston Rockets than you ever thought possible. That’s what happens when your team plays a playoff series. You come to know the opponent quite intimately. You’ll know more about Greg Smith than you do Trey Metoyer, OU fans. Know more about Patrick Beverely than you do Phil Jurick, OSU fans.
To get you jump-started on the Thunder-Rocket series, I thought I’d offer up a primer on the Rockets, who play in OKC on Sunday and Wednesday before the series shifts to Houston for games April 27 and April 29.
STARTING LINEUP: Four guys you know. James Harden, whose trade created a sensation last October, and Jeremy Lin, whose ascension in New York last season created a world-wide sensation, are the guards. Chandler Parsons, who looks a little like a surfer (he played at Florida, after all) but plays like Shane Battier (OK, he’s not that good, but still…) is the small forward. And Omer Asik is the center. That leaves power forward. With the trade of Patrick Patterson to Sacramento, the Rockets have been experimenting. Greg Smith, a second-year pro out of Fresno State, has started the last 10 games.
BENCH: Not good. Carlos Delfino is Houston’s best scorer off the bench, 10.6 points a game. Six-foot-1 rookie Patrick Beverely out of Arkansas is the first guard off the bench. Francisco Garcia, who came over in a trade with Sacramento, plays 17 minutes a game, mostly ineffectively. OSU’s James Anderson plays a little. Aaron Brooks, once a budding star with Houston, is back, signed in March, but barely plays. Terrence Jones, a 6-9 rookie out of Kentucky, and Donatas Motiejunas, a 7-foot rookie from Lithuania, help inside. But it’s not much of a bench.
COACH: Kevin McHale was an NBA star with the Celtics. As a coach, he’s been so-so. McHale ran the Timberwolves organization and stepped in twice to coach Minnesota, going 19-12 during a 31-game stretch in 2004-05 and 20-43 during a 63-game stretch in 2008-09. Last season, McHale took over at Houston and went 34-32. So this season, when the Rockets went 45-37, is McHale’s first full NBA season coaching.
STYLE: The Rockets like to run. They play as fast as any team in the league. The Rockets lead the NBA with 100 possessions per game. The Thunder ranks ninth in that category, 97.5. Houston is not particularly adept at defense. The Rockets try to outscore you.
HOMECOURT: The Toyota Center never has been identified as one of the league’s noisier environments. The Rockets average 16,672, which is 92.4 percent of capacity.
PLAYOFF EXPERIENCE: Very little. Harden played 43 games with the Thunder. Delfino played 36 playoff games with Detroit, Toronto or Milwaukee. Asik played 21 games with Chicago. Brooks played 19 games with Houston in 2008 and 2009. Anderson played eight games with the Spurs last season. Garcia played six games with the Kings. Meanwhile, the Thunder’s starting lineup of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha, Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka has started 37 playoff games as a unit.
PLAYOFF HISTORY: The Rockets won back-to-back NBA titles in 1994-95 with Hakeem Olajuwon, Otis Thorpe, Vernon Maxwell and Kenny Smith. Clyde Drexler was on the squad in ’95; Scotty Brooks was on the squad in ’94. But Houston was a force in the ’80s, too. The Rockets made the 1980 NBA Finals, led by Moses Malone, and the 1986 Finals, led by Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson. In the 25 years from 1975 through 1999, Houston made the playoffs 20 times. But this is just Houston’s sixth appearance since, and the Rockets have only one series victory during that time — they beat the Blazers in the 2009 first round.
MANAGEMENT: Rockets general manager Daryl Morey is considered one of the NBA’s moneyball-type thinkers. Heavy into analytics, the deep study of statistics. Morey’s assistant is Sam Hinkie, an OU graduate from Marlow.
OWNERSHIP: Les Alexander has owned the Rockets for 20 years. He’s a former stock trader from New Jersey and is considered a solid NBA owner.
FRANCHISE LEGACY: For 40 years, Houston has had good big men. Elvin Hayes, originally, until the Rockets inexplicably traded him to the Bullets for Jack Marin. Malone. Sampson. Olajuwon. Yao Ming. Of course, this Houston team is built around its backcourt.
GREATEST PLAYERS: In addition to the big men, the Rockets’ greatest players ever are Calvin Murphy, the 5-foot-9 dynamo who scored almost 18,000 points, and Rudy Tomjanovich, the No. 3 scorer in Houston history who coached the great Olajuwon teams.
FRANCHISE ORIGIN: The Rockets started in San Diego in 1967, stayed four season and moved to Houston.
ALL-TIME COACHES: The Rockets have an interesting history of coaches. Alex Hannum, Wilt Chamberlain’s long-time coach with the Warriors and 76ers, coached the Rockets for two years in San Diego. Tex Winter, a big-time coach at Kansas State in the ’60s who is credited with helping Phil Jackson install the triangle offense with the Bulls, coached the Rockets from 1971-73. Del Harris and Bill Fitch each coached the Rockets to the Finals. Don Chaney, Elvin Hayes’ teammate at Houston U., then a long-time Celtic, coached the Rockets 1988-92. Then Rudy T., Jeff Van Gundy, Rick Adelman and now McHale. The Rockets have actually had quite a consistency on the coaching front. Forty-six NBA seasons and 12 head coaches. Few franchises have been that stable.