The Mavs have pleasantly surprised. Although it might be easy to dig up a Maverick die-hard who had faith in Dallas’ ability to develop a top-notch defense, I think you’d be hard pressed top back that argument with warrant and logic. Expecting such a prolific defensive display could possibly have labeled you as some kind of maniac, or worse, a homer.
But the Rockets have been a surprise in a completely different way. Whereas underestimating the Dallas defense was natural given the personnel (a supposedly slowing Jason Kidd and Shawn Marion, and the near-liabilities turned competent defenders, Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry), the Rockets were underestimated due to a complete oversight of the power of a basketball cooperative. Each player compensates for the weakness of another, and though high-level talent separates Houston from the West’s elite, we all should have expected competence from a batch of skilled, highly-motivated ballplayers:
I don’t know if you heard, but over the Summer, the Houston Rockets essentially swapped Ron Artest for Trevor Ariza. The former is a bit of a wildcard, known for ill-advised 3s, elite perimeter defense, and something about snake eggs. The latter is a superb athlete, a tremendous wing defender, and an emerging shooting threat.
So why is it that the Houston Rockets were so woefully underestimated coming into the season, when the only significant difference between last year’s playoff team and this year’s would-be playoff time is the (occasionally bad) shot creating abilities of Artest?
I…I don’t know. Count me among the many that refused to acknowledge Houston’s potential. I didn’t see where the points were going to come from, even if Ariza is a young, talented player on a perfectly reasonable salary. Call me crazy, but I wasn’t sold on Aaron Brooks’ ability to score consistently, much less run an offense. And I saw some problems among their rotation of bigs, which had fallen to three productive if undersized power forwards in the absence of Yao Ming. Not only is none of that true, but we’ve seen virtually the opposite.
Read my thoughts on the Rockets in their entirety on Hardwood Paroxysm.