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Man In The Middle

Omer Asik serves up strong reminder of Rockets' riches at center position

HOUSTON - Remember Omer Asik? Defensive stalwart. Devastating screener. Impossible to move. Quick feet. Rebounder extraordinaire. Any of those things ring a bell?

For those who may have somehow forgotten what the 27-year-old center is capable of providing on a regular basis, Asik provided a resounding reminder Monday night while helping to lift Houston to its most lopsided win of the season. On an evening when the Rockets were without the services of Dwight Howard (mild left ankle strain), Asik made sure his team didn’t miss a beat. Quite simply, the Turkish national duplicated what he did for 82 games last season, applying his textbook positioning and deft defensive instincts in such a way that ensured the Rockets claimed ownership of the paint and glass whenever he was on the floor.  

He also delivered a powerful reminder that the Rockets possess a luxury to which no other NBA team can lay claim. In Howard and Asik, Houston has the league’s most formidable 1-2 punch at the center position – a security blanket that provides the club protection in case of chaos, be it in the form of foul trouble or injury. And though the early season experiment that simultaneously paired the two players together did not deliver the kind of results the Rockets had hoped it might, there’s nothing to prevent Houston from situationally trotting it out again against the kind of clubs – say, the Clippers and Grizzlies – whose fearsome, physical frontcourts pose unique problems that often require unique solutions.

That sort of big picture thinking is best left for later on down the line, though. At present, Asik’s biggest contribution was making sure his club received the sort of palate-cleansing win it required in the wake of its first three-game losing streak of the season. On a night when the Rockets could have fallen victim to a letdown after the emotional roller coaster they’d experienced over the course of the last couple weeks, Asik and his teammates rose to the occasion, built a big early lead, and never allowed their foot to ease off the accelerator. They played with pace, passed the ball with precision and overwhelmed Utah with the full force of their skill, talent and unselfish style of play – a point James Harden hammered home after the game.

“No matter who is on the court, if we play the right way we’re going to be good,” he said. He’s right, of course, but it sure helps when you’re able to make up for the absence of your eight-time All-Star by subbing in one of the game’s great defensive centers in his stead.

Remember Omer Asik? The Rockets never forgot him in the first place, and the reasons why were written all over the court Monday night - in bold, capital letters, no less - within every rebound, altered shot and bone crushing screen. This is a player who consistently makes plays that win basketball games. No reminders should be necessary.