Paradise. What is it really like?
Oh, I know some talk about financial freedom or an eternity at a tropical resort or winter wonderland.
But, they're wrong.
Paradise is watching the Houston Rockets charge right in to Utah and simply kick the living hell out of the Jazz from tipoff to buzzer, then watch their fans scratch their heads in an eery, stunned silence.
After an incredibly disappointing loss in overtime to the Jazz in Houston on Tuesday, the Rockets looked to be lambs heading to the slaughter going in to Salt Lake City for the second of a back-to-back. But Steve Francis hoisted the Rockets on his back, driving a Mack truck over John Stockton and the Jazz in a 106-76 laugher.
Whoa. Finally the Rockets "click" on the road.
Make no mistake, this is a huge, huge win for the Rockets - their first win against an over .500 team on the road all season (unless you count the Shaq-less Lakers back in November) and the first time they've beaten the Jazz in Utah in the regular season since 1996 (a game I was at by the way).
They have Francis to thank.
Francis came out gunning early and often. He scored 17 in the first quarter alone, had 25 by half and 36 through three. At times he looked downright Jordanesque, throwing in three-pointers or making the tough penetration baskets. 11-19 shooting, 3-5 from long range and 7 assists for good measure. It really was his game from the beginning - he owned it.
The Rockets clearly were up for this one as their defensive intensity, led by James Posey (13 points, 6 boards, 3 steals), was cranked up a notch or five right from the get-go when the Rockets jumped out to an 11-2 lead on the Jazz.
Yao Ming started out pretty cold, but his defensive presence in the paint turned out to be huge, turning back several Jazz players from driving or putting back offensive boards. Then his offensive game picked up when he started nailing 14-16 footers off the wing in the third quarter. He finished with 15 points, 6 boards and 3 blocks.
Know what's scary about Maurice Taylor - as in scary "good"? He may have his legs and confidence back. After scoring 30 against the Cavs, Taylor is seeing more time and responding. Tonight he had 13 points on 6-8 shooting, and his hook shot from 8-10 feet dead center in the paint is starting to look automatic.
Eddie Griffin only played 23 minutes, but finished with 10 points, 11 boards (4 offensive) and a block. His boardwork was a huge boost as he crashed the glass consistently when he was playing. While Eddie has been a very inconsistent shooter this season (despite nailing both bombs he took tonight), his shot-blocking and rebounding both look to be improving.
Things were going so right for the Rockets than when Juaquin Hawkins came in late in garbage time, he promptly banked in a baseline 20-footer. You know you're hot then.
So what's next? Simple. Don't let up. The Rockets can't afford to follow this big win up with a clunker to the lowly Heat in Houston on Friday. They must take care of business.
They sure did tonight.