Why is this truck not painted with an image of James Harden’s beard?

HOUSTON – I was watching a local TV newscast last night, on the eve of the Western Conference final. The guys on set were hyping the series, breaking down the Rockets’ chances against the Warriors and referring to an online poll showing that nearly half of the station’s viewership believe Houston will win both Game 1 and Game 2 here.

They ended with four surprising words: “Tickets are still available.”

Really? For the Rockets’ biggest game in at least 20 years? Against the hated Warriors?

Indeed, even today there are Game 1 tickets for sale, and not just via resale sites like StubHub. At around 3 p.m., I counted 87 tickets available through the Toyota Center website, ranging from right behind the team benches to upper level behind one basket.

Keep in mind that Houston is a huge city – fourth largest in the US, according to a 2016 Census Bureau estimate. The larger metropolitan area, with close to 7 million people, is fifth largest. You’d think they could find enough folks to fill a basketball arena.

This apathy was reinforced when I took a walk late yesterday afternoon. I’m staying downtown, and the neighborhood was sleepy on a Sunday. But I walked a good while and saw plenty of Houstonians. A solid proportion were wearing Astros gear – star caps, Jose Altuve jerseys, even an oversized shirt printed with the Astros’ famed polluted-sunset color scheme. I also saw a pickup truck hand-painted with images of Houston Texans football players. But I’m not sure I came across a single piece of Rockets merchandise.

What gives, Houston? Are you excited about this team or not? Can’t the best record in the NBA in 2017-18 get you pumped? Is presumptive MVP James Harden not enough, by himself, to lure you to the West final? Deep down inside, do you assume that the Warriors are about to reclaim their dominance and take this series?

Perhaps I’m reacting to a small sample size. When the ball tips off tonight at 6 p.m. Pacific, let’s assume the Toyota Center will be rocking, and that only a handful of Warriors fans will have infiltrated the stands. I hope so, anyway. I know what things will like at Oracle Arena. The battle for the West will be a lot more fun if Houston can simulate that hostile atmosphere.

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