By Art Garcia, NBA.com
Posted Nov 5 2008 4:00PM
The franchise hasn't won a playoff series since 1997. Its two cornerstones have never tasted such success.
Yet, walking through the Rockets locker room, the feeling is noticeable. Like the scent of freshly-laundered socks in the air.
A quiet confidence abounds.
"There are some guys on this year's team that have not been around for those years," said Brent Barry, one of those guys. "What we hope to do with the emergence of an in-house guy like Aaron Brooks and by making an impact trade to bring in Ron Artest is try to change the culture of the team a little bit.
"The veteran guys who have been here before know about the struggles and the first-round losses, but the new guys coming in don't really give a rat's [rear] about that stuff. What it's about is this season. What's happened in the past is the past."
Changing the culture isn't as easy as changing socks. But acting like they've been there before even when they haven't is the vibe in Houston. Unlike the Hornets last season or possibly the Trail Blazers this season, the Rockets aren't led by baby-faced stars looking to make a splash on the playoff stage.
Tracy McGrady is in this 12th season. Yao Ming has started his seventh. Artest and Rafer Alston have nine in the books. Even the injured Shane Battier, Houston's most versatile defender, is in his eighth campaign.
"We realize we have a chance to do really some special things," Artest said. "Guys are really dialed in."
The Rockets opened 3-0 despite not being at their best against Memphis and Oklahoma City. Houston did roll through Dallas before coming up short Tuesday against Boston.
What lies ahead would test the fortitude of any team, and that's exactly what coach Rick Adelman wants. The Rockets open a brutal five-game trip Friday at Portland. Laying in the weeds on the trek are the Lakers, Suns and Spurs.
Coming back home is no picnic. Houston get the Hornets and Spurs sandwiched around a jaunt to Oklahoma City. A three-game Eastern Conference swing follows that. For those scoring at home, nine of Houston's next 11 are on the road.
"That's probably going to be a true test," Adelman said.
He expects to have a good handle on his team at the end of this stretch three weeks from now.
"Hopefully we can win some games," Adelman added. "It's going to take us a while. I don't think you really going to know who we are for awhile until we get Shane back and we get some consistency with everybody in the lineup."
In some ways, this is training camp for the Rockets. T-Mac, nursing his gimpy knee and bum shoulder, didn't get a lot of reps last month. Yao is seven months removed from foot surgery. Battier hasn't participated at all, and others have been in and out of the lineup.
"We had a training camp for everyone else and not the guys we're going to rely upon," Barry said. "What we have to do in this first 15 games of the season is be really patient, to understand we do not have all of the bullets in our gun and that we have to establish a good foundation that we can build on as we get guys back."
• The Rick Carlisle Era was off to a discouraging start in Dallas. The Mavs dropped their first two at home thanks to anemic efforts in the fourth quarter against Houston and Cleveland.
Whispers that it could be a long season in Big D were quieted some on Election Night when Dirk Nowitzki and new starter Jason Terry led a romp over the Spurs. The Mavs evened their record at 2-2, with both victories coming on the road.
Now it's the folks in San Antonio feeling queasy. The Manu-less Spurs (0-3) are off to their worst start in 35 years, back when the franchise wasn't even in the NBA yet. The Spurs' only 0-4 start came in 1973, the Silver & Black's first season in the Alamo City as an ABA team after relocating from ... Dallas.
• Nuggets faithful waiting on Chauncey Billups need to be patient. Denver's native son and new starting point guard won't be in uniform tonight when the Nuggets visit Golden State.
Billups was in Charlotte when the trade went down and needed to get back to Detroit before heading to the Mike High City. Billups' second go-around with his hometown team should begin Friday at the Pepsi Center against Dallas.
Waiting a couple of extra days shouldn't be hard and debuting before the home fans always makes for a more dramatic scene.
• Jerry Sloan, the NBA's fourth all-time winningest coach, is on the verge of a first. Utah's skipper is two victories away from becoming the first coach in league history to win 1,000 games with the same franchise.
The Jazz are billing it as a "Countdown to NBA History." Sloan has been at the Utah helm since 1988, a 21-year run that stands as the longest current tenure in any of the four major sports. (Bobby Cox of the Atlanta Braves checks in at 19.)
Sloan, who is also Hall of Fame eligible, is 998-596 (.626) during that span and 1,092-717 (.604) overall. Should the 3-0 Jazz win the next two games, the milestone will happen Friday in Salt Lake City against Oklahoma City.
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