Two nights ago I was at the Toyota Center in Houston cheering along the Rockets while secretly hoping for a close finish (like any mutual fan would). The main reason I marked down this game in my calendar? To see Dwight vs Yao of course. I forked out extra money to get really good seats for this game, because I wanted to see these giants wrestling from close up. And boy was it worth it. I said after my first game that the NBA was more physical than I had realized from watching on TV, but tonight it was on another level. I could almost feel the earth move under my feat as Dwight and Yao fought for position. I was sitting third row baseline in the center, almost behind the ring. This was somewhat annoying because the ring blocked one quarter of my vision, but the flip side was I had no one sitting in front of me. I was literally five meters away from Yao and Dwight with nothing in between us, the game ball fell into my lap on more than one occasion, Ron Artest almost did too. Below are some of my snaps.

Rockets huddle before the game – note Brent Barry sporting the porno mustache

A girl dressed up as kryptonite.  Dwight got a big chuckle out of this during the warm up, pointing and laughing along with his team mates

Yes, I was this close

Dwight at the line, where he struggled mightily

Observations from this game:

  • Rockets fans have been the rowdiest I’ve encountered so far, and by far the best hecklers. This was something I noticed lacking at the other games I’ve been to, especially compared with Aussie Rules back home. At a footy match you’ll hear constant abuse hurled at players and umpires, including players on the home team (I know I’ve been guilty at screaming “useless” at several Carlton players the last six years). Up until the Houston game I thought all the NBA crowds were pretty well behaved, but this night balanced everything out. A few guys near me were constantly yelling out “Hey Supergirl!” at Dwight as well as a few jokes about Tyronn Lue working at Disney Land which didn’t really make sense to anybody. Dwight really copped an earful in this game – at one point, with the guys near me repeatedly screaming “Hey Dwight!” to get his attention, Dwight turned to look at them during a FT lineup, nodding slowly as if to say “Yeah guys, I see you, I get it.. I suck, thanks for pointing that out”.
  • Artest is the rock of this team. He gets the ball in any bail-out situations, and he’s the guy they look to for a calming influence (isn’t that incredibly ironic?). The fact is Ron’s game has become a lot more deliberate since moving to Houston, and with several other solid defensive wingmen on that Rockets team Ron gets to focus on offense just as much (I’d say more so) as defense. He took a little too many bad shots for my liking and too many threes, but the +/- differentials don’t lie – Ron Ron had the highest out of any Rockets player that night.
  • Von Wafer continues to impress me. The other night against LA I thought he was lively but couldn’t get his shots to fall – tonight they stuck. This dude is a pocket rocket and will be a big key to the Rockets chances if they want to compete against teams with deep benches (i.e LA).
  • Rashard Lewis really does have no conscience when it comes to launching threes – he will not hesitate for one second no matter how little space he has. I now understand why he leads the league in three-pointers made – the word “bad shot” doesn’t seem to be in his vocabulary. Over his last five games he’s jacked up 45 threes – that’s 9 a game. Incredible. If he keeps shooting at this rate he will finish the season with 584 three point attempts, which is good for equal-12th all-time for most three point attempts in a season. He has a long way to go to catch the record of 678 set by George McCloud in 1995-96, followed by Ray Allen with 653 in 2005-2006 and Antoine Walker with 645 in 2001-2002.
  • Dwight Howard commands the paint like few players have before. At one point Von Wafer drove in and had to loop the ball higher than the backboard just to get it over Dwight – the thing is Dwight leapt and was one inch away from blocking it. It didn’t matter, the shot went nowhere near the rim, but it was a classic example of how a true defensive center can affect an offense without necessarily blocking shots. He had his hands full with Yao, no doubt, but I was still impressed at the way he defended Yao, especially in the second half where Yao was essentially muted. What I liked about Dwight was his effort – his defensive work rate seems to be a lot higher than it has been in previous seasons. It all points towards him being a very worthy Defensive Player of the Year winner. And on that note, I plan to talk about the All-Defensive Teams in the next couple of days. Have plenty to say about that, as usual.

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