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Tuesday August 10, 2010 12:59 PM

The Best And Brightest


Rockets.com reveals its top-10 must-see matchups of the 2010-11 campaign

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com

HOUSTON - Labels are fun.

For whatever reason, we as humans seem to derive an immense amount of joy from labeling everything, especially when it comes to it assigning names to certain groups of people (for example: please see the enlightened lexicon created by the denizens of MTV’s “Jersey Shore.” See also: the unprintable name I assign to those who actually watch, and seemingly enjoy, “Jersey Shore.” But that’s a story for another time).

We love the naming process. We love the categorization. And we love the handy-dandy system it creates in our heads. It’s almost as if we delight in unleashing our own unique inner Martha Stewarts, filing everything away in nice, neat little packages stored safely inside our brains.

Perhaps we simply do this because our limited gray matter can only process and store a rather finite amount of information; instead of expending the mental energy required to think about everyone as a unique creature occupying his or her own little cubby hole of existence, somewhere along the line we consciously or subconsciously concluded that it’s altogether easier to lump seemingly similar groups of people together. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong – it’s simply the way it is.

Case in point: we’ve recently become rather taken with the notion of assigning labels to specific generations. Just in the last few decades, we’ve heard terms like Generation X, Next, Y, Z and a host of others bandied about, paying little mind to the fact that an actual generation is typically considered to be approximately 20 years or the average span of time between the birth of parents and that of their offspring, making it seemingly stupefying and largely impossible for so many generations to have been created in such a relatively short window of time.

But who cares? Coming up with catchy names is fun and we can all use more fun in our lives (unless your definition of fun involves anything having to do with fist-pumping, of course). Heck, only recently one of my younger and more frighteningly naïve friends declared himself part of “Generation Awesome.” Forget for a moment that this person likes the Mavs, thinks the movie “Step Brothers” is a cinematic achievement of the highest degree and demonstrates the steely resolve typically associated with a Brett Favre retirement announcement, routinely flip-flopping on hot-button issues based on whatever column or podcast he happens to be paying attention to that day. The point is, labeling these sorts of things is fun.

Which is why I’m leaping into the nomenclature pool myself today and assigning an altogether different name for our present generation. I call it “Generation Knee-jerk.” The reasons why are fairly obvious. With today’s 24-7 news cycle, any even remotely interesting event has to immediately be processed and placed in some sort of historical context, often resulting in a rash of moments, people and achievements being breathlessly referred to as the best or worst ever. This phenomenon is of course especially prevalent in the sports world, with message boards, talk radio and TV roundtables only too eager to hop on the hyperbole train following every win, loss and breaking news story.

Sadly, even I am not immune to this particularly shortsighted viewpoint devoid of any and all perspective. Take, for example, the upcoming NBA season. After a wild summer perhaps unprecedented in the annals of professional basketball (See? I’m off to the races already), the 2010-11 regular season is shaping up to be one of the most anticipated campaigns in NBA history (And away we go!). Between LA’s quest for another 3-peat, Boston’s bid for AARP status and the three-ring circus in Miami (or perhaps it would be more accurate to label it a “one-ring” circus in South beach, given that Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and LeBron James have but one championship ring between them, and the obvious Middle Earth symbolism of Heat President Pat Riley (aka Sauron) putting his rings of power to use in an effort to create an unstoppable evil army hell-bent on NBA domination), the league has storylines which promise to keep fans captivated from start to finish.

Here in Houston, of course, we’re not lacking for reasons to be feverish with excitement either. Yao Ming is returning, the Rockets feature one of the deepest teams in the NBA and General Manager Daryl Morey is armed with enough assets to deliver another blockbuster deal at any moment. For those reasons and more, the national media is paying close attention to what’s taking place in Clutch City, as ESPN.com even went so far as to place the Rockets in the top-5 of their NBA Future Power Rankings. An excerpt from the feature:

“Houston has a lot of assets thanks to a trade-deadline fleecing of the Knicks that could give the team high draft picks in 2011 and 2012. But the Rockets rank in the top five in our rankings because the cast already on hand looks strong…

“Additionally, the Rockets rate fairly well in the money category despite being well into the luxury tax. Most of the contracts on the books are short, and ownership has shown a willingness to spend money, both with contracts and when paying for draft picks. Houston has shown strong management, as well, mixing GM Daryl Morey's analytics focus with solid scouting, as evidenced by a string of successful drafts.”

In other words, we’re in desperate need of a fast-forward button to get this thing started already. But since that option isn’t available to us at present, let’s focus instead on the next best thing: looking forward to and dreaming about the top-10 home matchups dotting the Rockets’ schedule for the 2010-11 regular season – soon to be known as the BEST SEASON OF ALL TIME!

October 30: Rockets vs. Nuggets

This is Houston’s home opener, so I seriously doubt I need to sell you on the reasons to be pumped for this game. Toyota Center is sure to be packed with people eager to welcome Yao Ming back to action while getting their first real glimpse at this year’s edition of the Rockets. Throw in a visit from Carmelo Anthony and the always-entertaining Denver Nuggets and you’ve got everything you need for an epic opening night.

November 16: Rockets vs. Bulls

The Bulls may have struck out in their efforts to acquire one of the summer’s truly marquee free agents, but they still did well by adding Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer to their strong young core. Furthermore, by acquiring that trio of former Jazz members, the Bulls have ensured that they’ll be on the receiving end of an extra dose of venom and vitriol from the Toyota Center faithful during any and all visits for the foreseeable future.

November 28: Rockets vs. Thunder

Kevin Durant and company served notice to the entire league last season that they are for real and ready to begin tapping into their immense potential as a future NBA power. Yet for all the progress the Thunder made a year ago, the shorthanded Rockets still managed to whip them three out of the four times they faced each other. With both clubs figuring to be better this season and fighting for top-4 seeds in the Western Conference, Rockets-Thunder ought to be mandatory viewing for any fan of the game, regardless of allegiance.

December 1: Rockets vs. Lakers

You hate the Lakers. I hate the Lakers. Even my aforementioned clueless friend hates the Lakers (when he’s not inexplicably fawning over the absurd Kobe puppet commercials, that is). So given that this represents LA’s lone visit to Toyota Center this year, this figures to be one of the hottest tickets in town during the holiday season.

December 29: Rockets vs. Heat

I’m reasonably sure it took me longer to type this sentence than it will to sell-out this game. So better start making plans now to do whatever you have to do to ensure you’re taking your talents to Toyota Center the night of the 29th.

December 31: Rockets vs. Raptors

The Rockets’ annual New Year’s Eve game is always a great way to begin your New Year’s festivities. The game starts early (6 PM), so bring your date or your family to Toyota Center, watch the Rockets kick some Jurassic butt, then head out to ring in the New Year with the sweet scent of victory guiding your way, promising even bigger and better things in the hours, days and year to come.

January 17: Rockets vs. Bucks

Once a laughingstock, languishing far outside the realm of NBA relevance, the Milwaukee Bucks have turned things around in a hurry, thanks to the arrival of Brandon Jennings and the rise of Andrew Bogut. Head Coach Scott Skiles has the Bucks playing tough, hardnosed basketball, which should make for a highly entertaining brand of basketball to be played during the Rockets’ annual afternoon Martin Luther King Jr. Day game.

January 22: Rockets vs. Magic

In Yao Ming’s absence last year, Dwight Howard ascended unimpeded to the throne of best center in the NBA. Rockets fans know Yao has enjoyed a decided advantage in their head-to-head matchups in the past, so it will be fascinating to see what happens the first time the two giants of the game collide since Yao’s injury. Of course Orlando also stands tall as one of the Eastern Conference’s truly elite teams, so this tilt should give the Rockets a chance to measure themselves and their progress right around the mid-way point of the season.

March 18: Rockets vs. Celtics

Will the Celtics be able to order off the Denny’s Senior Menu by the time they arrive in Houston? Can we start calling them Team Tapioca? Will everyone be so sick of the “The Celtics are so ancient” jokes by the time the regular season starts that all broadcasters will be required to sign an agreement promising to abstain from any and all mentions of Boston’s advancing age simply as a way to ensure the viewing public doesn’t lose its collective mind every time the Celtics are on TV? Whatever happens, the fact remains that the defending Eastern Conference champs are still a force to be reckoned with and this post-St. Patty’s day matchup promises to be appointment viewing.

April 11: Rockets vs. Mavericks

The Mavericks. The regular season home finale. Playoff positioning. Possible division title ramifications. There are dozens of reasons to rush to get tickets to this game. But if you need one more, here you go: it’s imperative you drown out the nonsense sure to be spewed by my Mavs’ fan friend and everyone of his ilk – he’ll be the one in the MFFL t-shirt with Dirk-blond hair and an unusual propensity toward whining about every call that goes against Texas’ third-best team.

Bonus matchup: December 7, Rockets vs. Pistons

You might have heard that a certain someone has agreed to sign with Detroit. And I just know all of you will want to extend to him a warm, Texas-sixed welcome back to Houston, right? Right??? Why do I hear the sound of a cricket riding a tumbleweed right now? Very well then. Do what you have to do, fans.

Click here for the rest of the 2010-11 regular season schedule.

Got a question for Rockets.com? Send it to Jason Friedman. And for up to the second news and injury updates follow the Rockets and Jason on Twitter.