Houston Rockets: Choke City 2.0?

Mar 27, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) celebrates his three point shot with forward Trevor Ariza (1) and guard Corey Brewer (33) and guard Jason Terry (31) against the Minnesota Timberwolves in the second half at Toyota Center. Rockets won 120 to 110 .Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 27, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) celebrates his three point shot with forward Trevor Ariza (1) and guard Corey Brewer (33) and guard Jason Terry (31) against the Minnesota Timberwolves in the second half at Toyota Center. Rockets won 120 to 110 .Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports /

How sweet it isn’t. Who would have thought after barely losing to the Hulk-disguised Warriors in the 2015 conference finals—the games were closer than the series record lets on—our Rockets would be floating at the bottom of the pool of the Western Conference playoff teams?

Who would have guessed that McHale would be cleaning out his office before Christmas? Remember when Chuck Wagon rolled in for a few games? Who would have thought the return of Josh Smith would be a glass of lemonade from this lemon of a season? And yeah, that lemonade didn’t last long. It’s already been shelved. No one imagined the 2015 MVP runner-up would stumble so badly early in the season, but Harden bounced back. Offensively, he’s even better than before.

Is Choke City Back?

The Houston Rockets have gotten whooped by the Warriors. So what? So have the Spurs and the Bulls and a pantheon of Greek gods. Curry is taking names. What’s more troubling than losing to one of the greatest teams in NBA history is losing to the Nuggets, Nets, and having to fight for a two-point win against the 76ers. Here’s where I’m headed with all this sadness: Is Choke City back?

In 1994, after the Houston Rockets cratered in two fourth quarters in the Western Conference playoff series against the Suns, blowing a twenty point lead in game two, The Houston Chronicle ran the “CHOKE CITY” headline.

Mar 6, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Houston Rockets head coach J.B. Bickerstaff reacts to a play in the fourth quarter of a 113-107 win over Toronto Raptors at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

The writing was on the wall and on the city—but something happened to the Rockets. The fuel came back. The spunk returned. The Dream awakened. Choke City was ran out of town and Clutch City won the day, won the hearts of the city, and went on to win the Finals two years in a row.

So, is Choke City back? Maybe. Remember when these Rockets blew a twenty point lead against the Miami Heat and lost by twenty? That was rough. However, the Rockets will make the playoffs, and they have a real shot at not being the eighth seed.

The Sixth Seed Is Possible

If Harden and the Rockets can pull together a solid streak of wins, it’s possible they claw their way into the sixth seed.

The Mavericks (sixth seed) and Trail Blazers (seventh seed) will face each other twice in the remainder of the year. If one of these teams can take both games, the Rockets will be in a prime position to move up to the sixth seed, avoiding a dooms day series with the Warriors or Spurs. Don’t think the sixth is unreality, look at the Grizzlies, Mavericks, and Trail Blazers’ schedules.

Portland’s schedule will put them face to face with the Warriors, Thunder, Spurs, and two games with the Thunder—all games they will probably lose. The Mavericks have two more games against the Warriors, two with the Clippers, a game with the Cavaliers, and their final game of the season is against the Spurs. The Grizzlies, the poor Grizzlies, have the most challenging schedule of all of the bottom-seeded teams, with two games with the Warriors, two with the Spurs, two with the Clippers, and one with the Cavaliers.

Only One Way To Be Clutch City

Among the Grizzlies, Trail Blazers, and Mavericks, the Houston Rockets have the easiest schedule going forward. Clutch City might be back. But to be Clutch City, we have to admit we’ve been living in Choke City.

As Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle says:

The legend of Clutch City endures as more than the ultimate rejoinder but as proof that greatness can be inspired by failure.

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I don’t want to call this team a legion of choke artists. They aren’t. I do like the core of this team. They seem like fun guys. Brewer’s smile is infectious, and it seems like his play is coming together too. Brewer was instrumental in the Rockets upset victory over the Toronto Raptors. The bench however, needs some serious work.

Harden is still a nuclear threat on offense. His numbers have been incredible. Dwight can still put up the numbers and make people rethink their shot selection—when he wants to. Ariza is still solid, steady, and can play the D we need. Beverley is an animal. Capela, please don’t ever leave. But here’s the deal, if calling this squad Choke City 2.0 will awaken them to Clutch City 2.0, just like it did for the mid 90s Rockets we know and love, then so be it.

As the great Rockets’ coach, Rudy Tomjanovich said,

“Nothing that ever took place, the first championship and especially the second, would’ve happened without ‘Choke City’…It became the last thing that made us a team. It drove us.”

If calling them ugly will make them want to be pretty. “Boys, y’all are ugly.” If calling them Choke City will morph them into the Clutch City team they’ve shown they can be, with stunning comeback wins versus the Trail Blazers and Raptors—and last year with the Clippers—then, we must.

Greatness can be inspired by failure.

But, c’mon, boys. It’s Clutch City time. Let’s do this. There’s only one way to be Clutch City. Play some ball, get the banner, take the hill—or just put the ball in the hoop and don’t let the other team do it more than you. Be inspired by your past failures. The champagne is waiting. Clutch City 2.0 is around the corner.

Next: Who isn't the Rockets problem?

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