It's early, but Saturday night it looked like this year's Hornets squad is going to be pretty good, or the Rockets without Tracy McGrady are going to be pretty bad.
Hornets rookie Chris Paul hit two running jumpers in the final minute while Yao Ming and the Rockets couldn't buy a hoop in the last several minutes, watching Oklahoma City's new toy stun stun the Toyota Center crowd by finishing off the Rocks 91-84.
Um, painful. Houston led by 8 with 4 minutes to go and watched Yao, who had been having a great all-around game, miss shot after shot after shot. He was clearly fatigued, but it didn't stop Houston from going to him over and over again.
The damage when it was all done: A 17-2 blitz by the Nokies to cap it, putting one huge Hornet stinger right in the tailpipe.
But can you blame the Rockets for going to Yao? Who else was going to shoot it on a night when the team hit 35% of their shots.
Before the crash at the finish line by Yao, he was having an excellent game, finishing with 20 points, 14 boards and 7 blocks.
One block was a gem on a Desmond Mason dunk attempt with about 2 minutes left in the third, and Yao crashed on top of Mason for the loose ball afterwards. Mason took severe exception, and with Yao on his back, he jumped to his feet and flipped the Rocket big man over angrily.
The Oklahoma boy-turned-new Hornets ticket seller was miffed at first since he landed hard on the ground after the block, but it was a clean play. It looked like all hell was going to break loose because of Mason's actions with David West and Chris Andersen looking to throw down, but order was restored.
It should have motivated the Rockets, but it didn't. Yao quickly made peace with Mason and it didn't seem to affect play.
The gunners, Derek Anderson, David Wesley and Jon Barry, were a combined 5-25 from the field while Wesley and Barry got a big goose egg from downtown on 7 triple attempts. With T-Mac out, the Rockets simply can't afford this.
Stromile Swift also hasn't performed up to snuff, going just 2-8 for 7 points and 6 boards in 19 minutes, picking up 5 fouls.
I was impressed tonight with Rafer Alston though, despite the fact that he hasn't quite been the creator for this team just yet. He knocked down 3 of 4 triple attempts and also provided the comic relief of the night when he was upset with a foul call, walking up behind the ref, putting both hands on his head and kissing his noggin.
Nice also to see Luther Head get in the game, and that has to be because of Wesley's ineffectiveness. In 13 minutes, Luther finished with 5 points (including a trey) and a pair of assists.
My last compliment of the night: Very nice to see Rudy T in the house that he never got to coach in. The Rocket legend is now a scout for the enemy (Lakers), but he got a nice ovation from the Rocket faithful.
The Hornets outquicked the Rockets all night, with Houston gaining control of the lead early in the second half only to collapse late. So, you hope this game was an abomination.
BUT, the truth is, this team looks a lot like last year's squad before they "found" their niche on offense. People don't know where they are supposed to be all the time on either end of the floor. They miss Bob Sura and it goes without saying that they miss T-Mac, but I think trading away the instant offense of Mike James hurts right now also. We'll give it a little time. It should have been a 'W', but we need to see more of this team in order to figure out what they're made of.