It's been a long road back to the playoffs for the Houston Rockets. Houston was last in the playoffs during the 2008-2009 season in a second round series that served as Yao Ming's last ride. They would go on to lose a seven games in the Western Conference semifinals to the Los Angeles Lakers, and the rebuild was underway.
Now, the Rockets are a completely revamped team. They had a strong summer signing both Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin, then capped it off when they traded for James Harden. They'll be the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference and will have a chance to run their uptempo offense through the playoffs.
Their back-to-back championships in 1994 and 1995 seem like a distant mirage, and the reality is this team has been knee deep in multiple rebuilds since then and have yet to find sustainable success. Health certainly backtracked the team when looking at players like Yao and Tracy McGrady as their primary options, but health has been good to them this season. Hence, they themselves have been good this season, as well as brilliant in stretches when their offense takes off.
Since 1997-1998 the Rockets have been eliminated in first round of the playoffs six of their last seven appearances (2008-2009 the only exception), while missing the playoffs entirely in eight seasons. With their young core set and the results already looking promising, Houston will definitely be looking to change that ugly statistic around not only this season, but for many to come. The Rockets are in a great position to continue building around the core already brought together, and with youth on their side, can continue building systematically as opposed to frantically.
It's shocking looking back at the 2009-2010 Rockets roster, then looking at where Houston stands now. It's been a mix of solid trades, asset acquisition, savvy free agency decisions, and patience. After the departure of Yao, and their final playoff appearance up until now, the Rockets were a pantry full of unlabeled cans. A Jordan Hill here, some Kyle Lowry kid, recently signed Trevor Ariza, and 46 solitary minutes of McGrady on the basketball court.
This will be Kevin McHale's first run in the playoffs as a head coach. In his previous brief stints with the Minnesota Timberwolves they missed the playoffs. In his second year with the Rockets they've improved their winning percentage and made it through a highly competitive Western Conference.
On their side will be the league's fastest paced and highest scoring offense, and a leader in Harden who has already gathered plenty of playoff experience while he grew with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Being matched up against the No. 1-seeded Thunder will be no easy task for Houston, as the Thunder sat atop the Western Conference steadily throughout the season, but what better test than against the top of the order?
With the Rockets making the playoffs it indicates a new era of Houston basketball is in place. Some teams click right out of the gates together, which is what some will say about the Rockets. It's taken Houston a long time to get to this spot, though, it just happened to culminate together at the right time.