Josh Smith

The Houston Rocket seasons seemed to be going nowhere. Well, a playoff spot and an early exit at best. But the arrival of Josh Smith might be just what they need to create some sort of momentum and fix some issues that could result in a much longer season, and a much better impression of how it all went.

Smith didn’t work out well with the Clippers. Why did he leave the Rockets in the first place? They basically saved his career after he got cut by the Detroit Pistons, where he was made out to be the harbinger of destruction on a basketball team. So he accepted a smaller role in Houston, played very good defense and sometimes lit things up offensively, helping the Rockets make the conference finals for the first time since Hakeem Olajuwon roamed the land in Houston.

Smith, in his second game with the Rockets since a trade with the Clippers for him, scored 16 points in a 115-104 win over the Dallas Mavericks. In his first game, also a win (over the Milwaukee Bucks), Smith tried a little bit too much, maybe celebrating his release from the burden of playing under Doc Rivers, shooting 1-of-10 from the field and not really doing much to help his team. Against the Mavericks, he had two blocks and two steals but more than just the numbers, like in the Western Conference semifinals series last season against the Clippers, he provided inspiration, if there is such a thing in basketball.

Even into his 11th NBA season, when all of his strengths and flaws are known to us all, he can surprise you. He’s a special kind of player. One that’s always going to be one of those guys with the “missed potential” label above him. Maybe the best athlete in the NBA for years, but someone who either played for the wrong coaches or simply wouldn’t learn from them, preferring to do what he likes instead of what’s best for him and the team.

In Houston, he felt comfortable last season. He is their wildcard off the bench. A big man who can do a lot of other things, although there’s always the danger of him feeling too loose and go on a shooting spree that brings only bad news to his team. But after so many years in the league, it’s probably impossible to completely restrict him into a certain mold the team wants of him.

There are players who make a bigger impact in Houston than Smith. James Harden (who had a triple double in the win against Dallas), Dwight Howard when he’s healthy, Trevor Ariza (a team-high 29 points in the win). But next to Smith, even Ty Lawson seemed energized, which is a rare state for him this season. No one is thinking about beating the Golden State Warriors, but suddenly, the feeling surrounding the team is a lot more optimistic thanks to the return of Smith.

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