Coarse Shine in Forests
I keep trying to form a cohesive thesis about the Rockets streak, one that won't give away how little I watched them pre-Yao injury, or bring out the disdain I once had for half that roster. What's really tugging at me is the correlation between a streak and self-definition. Or, more accurately, how a run can define a team but a streak usually involves getting caught up in the moment, deferring to circumstance, and feeling like you've been touched by something large and possibly sinister.
The other night, Barkley said thus: "Just like with the Blazers, when the Rockets stop hitting their jump shots, then they'll really have to learn who they are." To extrapolate, a monolithic streak can't furnish an identity, since there's too much luck, and fluke, and danger involved. What's more, while the streak is most certainly a statement of might, it's also wistful and already soaked in its own nostalgia.
That is, assuming Barkley is right. I happened to think his conclusions were so off, they rotted. We have no problem with saying that the Lakers' going on a tear indicates a realization of potential, a celebration of what that team should be. Everything falling into place and the team running wild with relief. I'd have to put the be-Yao-ed part of this streak in that category, since it showed that Yao/T-Mac could be rescued from their rut by the right coach. Adelman was brought on to make this nucleus less stagnant, to lift a curse than JVG's exile only partly symbolized.
But here's why I'm now kept up late at night thinking about the post-Yao phase: This team hit a major snag and kept going. Not through residual pixie dust, or the regenerative power of fumes. This is almost a second, separate streak, one that involves the level of self-discovery we associate with random teams (Warriors, anyone?) finding a groove and inflicting it upon others. Except in this case, the wins pile up in succession, in a way that should discount the very seriousness of what's at hand.
Who knows when this ends. I'd like to think tomorrow in Atlanta, but that's unlikely. Over the weekend in Los Angeles, probably, especially with Kobe-as-Grinch the role of a lifetime. But I don't think we'll ever be able to discount that, far from lacking in substance, this streak has contained two season-changing junctures that are usually at odds with the tawdriness of endless, endless victory. These are matters of identity, or learning who you are with the crucible blasting all around.
For a team to pull off two, possibly divergent, versions of this, to accept its destiny and then manufacture a new one on the fly without the ticks or pauses that should give it credibility . . . you'll excuse me if this strikes me as almost overpowering in its intensity. There's nothing trivial about this twice-over transformation, and yet the fairy tale forcefulness seems to demand some. Only time will tell, I guess, if this Rockets team is really that endlessly, disgustingly resilient and resourceful.