After one fourth quarter three, James Harden stops at midcourt and points to Reggie Miller, who is sitting there calling the game for TNT. Miller — one of the NBA's all-time greatest shooters and all-time greatest self promoters — loves this little act of homage, of course.
Then again, it's hard not to love the Houston Rockets when they're playing like this.
When Harden and Dwight Howard are rolling, no team in the NBA has more fun than the Rockets. There is nothing grim-faced about Kevin McHale's team. As long as you're not one of the banished ones (i.e. Jeremy Lin or Omer Asik), it's all good times, chest bumps and long threes. Joy's etched all over the Rockets' 126-113 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers Monday night.
The Rockets have 96 points after the third quarter, hit 16 threes for the game and watch Chandler Parsons begin his new contract drive with a 31-point, 10-rebound, seven-assist line. About the only one who gets upset on this night is Houston super lawyer Rusty Hardin who jumps out of his customary court side seat and throws a fit after one call goes against Howard. Rusty's lucky he didn't somehow earn a T (though he could probably argue himself out of that as well).
Portland's disinterest in one side of the floor borders on the comical. Fitting, since the Trail Blazers are clearly a joke of a championship contender.
No matter though, no whistle's going to stop the Rockets on this night.
There's the real promise of something more too. For this game exposes the Trail Blazers as complete frauds, proves that one of the top three spots in the Western Conference is up for grabs after all.
University of Texas product LaMarcus Aldridge is a fantastic force whose quick second jump ability is something else to watch in person — a skill that's all over his 27-20 stat line as Aldridge often seems to be playing volleyball with himself under the basket, tipping the ball back for rebounds again and again.
But these Trail Blazers are absolutely atrocious on defense. They make a Mike D'Antoni-coached team look like the Pat Riley Miami Heat of Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway. Portland's so bad on defense, in fact, that if Patrick Beverley played for Terry Stotts' team he really would qualify as its version of a defensive stopper rather than the pretend, propped up one the Rockets make him out to be.
A good YMCA rec league player could put up 20 points against these Blazers.
James Harden going against this defense is almost unfair. And Harden himself seems to agree as he only takes 15 shots, four less than Parsons.
Portland's complete disinterest in one side of the floor borders on the comical. Fitting, since the Trail Blazers are clearly a joke of a championship contender.
NBA's Western Conference Clears
At 31-10 heading into Tuesday night's game at Oklahoma City, the Blazers currently own the second-best record in the West, just one game behind San Antonio. But Aldridge and Co. have just about as much chance of actually finishing in one of the Top Three spots in the West as the Dallas Mavericks do. With this defense, they'll be lucky to hold onto having homecourt advantage in the first round of the NBA playoffs.
This presents a huge opportunity for the Houston Rockets. Oklahoma City is clearly the best team in the West and San Antonio's not going to stop racking up regular season wins as long as Gregg Popovich is around. But there's clearly a spot in the Top Three that the Rockets (28-15) can reach up and grab. The LA Clippers — a team the Rockets have no chance against in the playoffs if Lin continues to be marginalized — is the most likely team to take over that spot. But the Rockets should be competing for it and treating the fourth seed as the fallback.
Harden's love for basketball comes out in how he plays through injuries.
McHale's absurd treatment of Jeremy Lin is liable to keep these Rockets from ever reaching the full potential of this current roster, but that doesn't mean the Rockets cannot go into the playoffs with a homecourt edge. Even when they're limiting the third best player on their roster. On the night when they're rolling, on the nights when the opposing defense is ordinary (or worse), this is still a very scary team.
And a fun one.
A lot of people fixate on the outright joy Dwight Howard is unafraid to show, but there's no doubt James Harden loves to play the game. The burden of being the No. 1 option certainly hasn't diminished his zeal. Harden's love for basketball comes through in how he plays through injuries.
It screams out in moments like that Reggie Miller finger point.
Some nights it's hard not to get caught up in these Rockets. No matter how much potential is being locked up on their bench, no matter how silly the Patrick Beverley boosters (who really are just anti-Lin, Beverley's only the foil of the moment) get.
There's Harden, joy and hope.