The truth is we should have seen this coming.
The Rockets are exactly the kind of life-raft team that was made to stay afloat in the choppy waters of the jam-packed, no-rhyme-or-reason post-lockout schedule.
They have continuity. They have young legs. Now with Samuel Dalembert challenging opponents in the middle and new coach Kevin McHale challenging the Rockets from the bench, they are developing a defensive personality.
These are no longer Rick Adelman’s Rockets, though Adelman did get an up-close view on Monday night when they handled his Timberwolves 107-92 to put a grip on their seventh straight victory.
It is the most consecutive wins by the Rockets since Jan. 29-Mar. 16, 2008 when the franchise ripped off 22 in a row, the second-longest win streak in NBA history.
Nobody’s circling Feb. 20 (home vs. Memphis) yet as the date when the Rockets will notch No. 23-in-a-row this season. But after a 3-7 start, there is a sense that this is a team built for the long haul of a schedule that will test sanity and endurance along with sheer talent.
“With the toughest starting schedule in the league, our goal was a 5-5 start,” said general manager Daryl Morey. “Even though we weren’t able to get there, once we got back to the .500 level we felt were back on a playoff pace and we think it can better.
“Our feeling was that we have three really, really strong veterans in Kyle Lowry, Kevin Martin and Luis Scola and then we found ourselves in a unique position to get veteran center in Samuel that was a good fit at just the position where we needed the most help.
“We still need to build up our second unit and get a more consistent contribution from that group every night. But the way things have been going, we’re feeling comfortable that things can continue to improve.”
Lowry rang up 16 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds for a triple-double against the Wolves has been making a case for an All-Star bid with his play over the first month. But the Rockets’ resurgence has been more than a one-man show.
McHale has nurtured that improvement with a willingness to use the youth in his lineup – such as rookie forward Chandler Parsons and second-year big man Patrick Patterson – to keep fresh legs on the floor, all while keeping the frantic schedule in mind.
The resurrection has also been about defense. McHale has been adamant that his team will play it. The players have heard his edict to either get after it with energy and enthusiasm or wind up watching from the bench.
Dalembert, more than anyone else, has had the greatest impact. Last season, Jordan Hill led the Rockets with 52 blocked shots. Dalembert already has 34 this season and has swatted back 21 during the seven-game win streak. That has enabled Houston to already hold six teams below 90 points in a game, something they didn’t do last season until their 21st game.
It’s already a season when a veteran such as Tim Duncan in San Antonio has had to have his minutes curtailed and even held out of games, when Kobe Bryant’s heavy workload already has to be of concern to the Lakers.
For the Rockets to have a mix of those young legs to go with an experienced core makes them a bunch worth keeping an eye out for as the hectic schedule wears on and grinds down.
“You look at that roster,” Adelman said of his former team, “and you have seven guys who have played together for three years now. That’s a big advantage. It’s a solid team.”