They might run the triangle offense around Shaquille O'Neal or set up Kevin Garnett or Tim Duncan in the low post.
They could have a 7-footer flinging 3-pointers or one stationed at the high post firing backdoor passes to cutting guards.
Think of the Lakers, Timberwolves or Spurs, picture the Mavericks or Kings, and an image comes to mind that is clear and unchanging.
They are what they are, and whether ahead or behind, whether shots swish or clang, whether their way works or not, their game and their unshakable faith in it doesn't change.
The Rockets are not nearly so dull. Any night -- and for that matter any quarter -- can bring a radical departure from the one before.
The Rockets have by now established a style -- tight, helping defense with a determination to get the ball in the lane either off the dribble or by posting up Yao Ming -- but it can be as variable as a poker hand.
With the Rockets heading into a stretch against three members of the West's presumed Big Five, beginning Wednesday against the Lakers before games against Minnesota and Dallas, it might never have been more important for them to know their identity and stick with it no matter what happens along the way.
"It's one of our biggest issues, (having) the poise to play through and stick with it through whatever -- whether we're playing bad, the other team is playing good, or maybe you don't think you're getting the calls," Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy said.
"Maybe we're not getting the calls we think we deserve or the ball's not going in the basket, or the other team is making incredibly difficult shots. Even San Antonio, as Duncan goes out and they're getting hit by an onslaught (in Dallas last week), their game is their game. They kept doing their thing. They do what they do. That's why they win big. That will be progress, when you see us playing like that."
Sunday's loss to the SuperSonics demonstrated the Rockets' equally familiar inconsistency, especially on offense. They have often seemed to turn a corner only to be hit by a truck, and Sunday they did not have to worry about playing their game no matter how things went because they rarely played their game in the first place.
"We just didn't do what's necessary to win," Van Gundy said. "We didn't defend. We didn't pass. We didn't rebound. The game started like that too early.
"If you want to make the playoffs and make strides toward winning a championship, the hard thing the good teams do is be consistent. The mediocre teams do it mediocre. The bad teams infrequently. It's not about talent.
"I don't know if we're better at it or not. It starts with individual inconsistency and leads to team inconsistency. I'm not sure we have the individual consistency to do that. That's why we are where we are."
The Rockets' inability to develop enough of that consistency has left them short of the Big Five, in seventh in the West, 1 1/2 games behind Memphis. It would help to have Steve Francis' shot become more dependable, for Yao to become more reliably available inside, for Jim Jackson and Cuttino Mobley to knock down 3s every night.
But in the search for consistency, the Rockets have tried to not let the details of each game make them stray from their style. Until Sunday, when they could not make shots or take open shots from the SuperSonics, they had been taking consistent steps in that department since the All-Star break.
"If you watch the film of what we're doing, it's very encouraging," guard Mark Jackson said. "We're playing our game. We're doing the little things. We're doing a lot of good things. If we can do that, continue to do it, the sky is the limit for us."
The Lakers might not be as solid in their style as the other top teams, particularly if O'Neal's frequent complaints about how often he gets the ball are to be believed. But they don't have to be.
"Overwhelming talent overcomes everything," Van Gundy said. "They have overwhelming talent. They're the one team that does."
The Rockets rarely overwhelm an opponent. But as a team that largely keeps games in the halfcourt and whose defense takes a slow toll, as opposed to winning with sudden bursts of Mavericks- or Kings-caliber offense, the Rockets need to stay with what works with even greater determination than most player-caliber teams.
The test of that, Van Gundy said, is not when things are going well, but when they are not.
"Cleveland the other night in the first half, offensively, we played great offensively in the first half. Not good -- great," Van Gundy said. "Made the right plays. Got the right shots. And missed them. And missed them. But if you make the right plays consistently and continue to stick with that when it's not going well, then you're making progress. When you lose poise in your game, then things aren't going well.
"Everybody can be good and poised when things are going well. That's not the challenge. The challenge is when things are not going well for you individually or as a group. I was happy with that in the Cleveland game. That was our fourth game in five nights. Maybe there were a little bit of dead legs, not making shots against a team that was playing well, but I liked it."
The Rockets similarly came back from a horrible start in San Antonio, then stuck with their usual style throughout a close game against the Trail Blazers.
Sunday, however, the frustration of missed shots seemed to break them, demonstrating that the Rockets' discipline and stability of style might be improving but are far from rock-solid certain.
"I think the teams that are successful worry about the next play instead of the last play," Van Gundy said. "The best teams don't spend a lot of time getting preoccupied at things that are not under their control.
"You know, the ball's not going in the basket. We've just got to stick with it, play through it, and that's really our basic challenge right now."
Time to gripe
Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy has been called for just one technical foul this season, but that does not necessarily mean he has never had a complaint. It is just difficult to get a word in.
Because Rockets players so often complain about the officiating during games, Van Gundy said he has had to be judicious about expressing his opinions to officials.
"When we're on those periods when I don't think we're responding well to however the game is being called, I think we have to show more poise," Van Gundy said. "That starts with myself. Sometimes I wish our players would let me have my say and then just get on to the next play.
"The more you stay away from officiating -- making up tapes, calling in your complaints -- it doesn't matter. You have to just play.
"I think there is a time and a place. The time would be dead balls. The place would not be in the fourth quarter if you're going to take a technical foul. You can't make up for it."
The Rockets rank 15th in the NBA in technical fouls with 29. The Lakers lead with 49.
Over the line
After Seattle made 47.9 percent of its shots Sunday, Rockets opponents are at 40 percent overall for the first time this season.
No team has ever held opponents to worse than 40 percent shooting for an entire season. But the Rockets are still on pace to break the 1998-1999 Spurs' NBA record for allowing 40.2 percent shooting.
The Rockets rank third in scoring defense, allowing 85.3 points per game.
The Rockets' game Wednesday against the Lakers has been sold out for more than a month, and their next home game, Sunday against the Mavericks, is close to a sellout, likely giving the Rockets 13 sellouts this season. They had 10 last season.
The Rockets are averaging 15,292 fans at Toyota Center, their best figure since they averaged a Compaq Center capacity of 16,285 in the 1998-99 season, when they completed a streak of 142 consecutive regular-season home sellouts.