Welcome to our first live Rockets blog of the year... I’ve settled in to my usual spot along press row of the Toyota Center, right next to the venerable Andy Yao, and a few others from the Texas Chinese Radio network (not to mention the fine folks from the Chron and KTRH). I’m currently witnessing the 9th Wonder of the Modern World: Chuck Hayes draining one (relatively) hitch-free free throw after another. Go figure.
Anyway, let’s talk Rockets! There are a ton of questions surrounding this team, so we should have no shortage of topics to keep us busy. Not to mention we’re looking forward to Kevin Durant’s professional debut here in H-Town. So fire away. Just send your Rockets questions and comments via the comments section at the bottom of the post.
So just to get the conversation rolling, let me begin by offering a few of my thoughts on the Rockets season to date. First of all, I guess any description which doesn’t include the word “disappointing” should be immediately disregarded. But hey, you won’t get any argument from anyone inside the Rockets organization on that. Everyone expected better things.
The real question is: Where do they go from here? Is the season a lost cause, or are you still hopeful that this team can get on a roll and make some noise in the playoffs? Remember, Golden State was a postseason afterthought before finding their groove, capitalizing on a perfect first round match-up, and becoming the darlings of the ’07 playoffs.
At this point, we can say with a fair amount of certainty that Houston won’t be seeded any higher than sixth, if it even makes the playoffs at all. Odds are, that means a likely first round pairing against Phoenix, Dallas or San Antonio. The Suns equal certain death, but what about the Mavs and Spurs? Houston always plays San Antonio tough and the Mavs are going to be in a fragile mental state until they get out of the first round after last season’s nightmare. So you never know.
Might as well go ahead and get this out of the way, too: I’ve been a proponent of the “Trade T-Mac” agenda for quite some time. For further details, you can read all aboutmy rationale
which were written last spring. To repeat: I love Tracy’s game and fully recognize his importance to the team. But his fragile nature means Houston will constantly be subject to the whims of his made-by-Mr. Glass body as long as he’s on the team.
But here’s the thing: that ship has sailed. I initially made the case to trade him because I wanted the club to maximize his market value after a stellar (and relatively injury-free) ’06-’07 campaign. Too late now. At this point, the Rockets are destined to get pennies on the dollar when a deal eventually does go down. And, yes, I think it’s just a matter of time. Not this year, mind you. But I fully believe it will happen down the line.
In the meantime, just keep your fingers crossed that he finally crosses the first-round threshold… and that he does so while wearing Rockets red.
Reader Kevin brings up a good point:
“Aren't the Rockets in the TMac/Yao era a lot more fragile than the Mavs? At least the Mavs have shown the ability to win a playoff series in the last 5 years.”
Can’t disagree with that statement at all; especially since the Mavs have displayed a knack for dispatching the Rockets in the playoffs as well as the regular season. That having been said, Dallas is going to be under a HUGE microscope come playoff time. Will their jitters be as intense as Houston’s? Probably not, but if the Rockets can rattle off a couple early series wins, or take the series to the limit, you better believe the Mavs will be feeling the heat.
Hey, we’ve got to latch on to every silver lining we can possibly find, right?
All right, time to start focusing on the game at hand. Last week I said there was no way in hell the Rockets would blow a home game to Philly… and we all know how that turned out. Undeterred, I’ll say it once again: There’s no way in hell the Rockets can lose to Seattle. That goes for Wednesday night as well. The Sonics are simply out-classed and over-matched in every area.
Prediction for today’s game: Rockets 103 – Seattle 88.
Going to be very interesting to see how Houston responds to the afternoon tip-off. If I recall correctly, they sleepwalked through their last one (was it Toronto?). Considering the typically late arriving Toyota Center crowd, the Rockets better bring plenty of early energy on their own. I don’t expect the fans to give them much of a boost early on.
Sonics 13 – Rockets 11
Not much of a start to this one from either team. Having watched Bonzi Wells turn the ball over twice already, I’m reminded of a thought I have nearly every time I watch the Rockets. Simply put, I’m surprised Bonzi gets as much playing time as he does, considering the Rockets’ emphasis on numbers and defense. Let’s just say the plus/minus stat is not Bonzi’s friend.
Of course, in the time it took me to type that paragraph Wells just stroked a pair of outside jumpers, providing Houston a much-needed offensive spark. Perhaps Bonzi merely serves as the perfect symbol of this Rockets team: Can’t live with him, can’t live without him, and you never, ever know what you’re going to get.
Wouldn’t you know it, T-Mac is hobbling badly and hasn’t even run to the other end of the court the last two times down the floor. I’m putting in the call right now: Tracy will leave this game early and it would not surprise me in the slightest to see him miss a few more games in the near future. This is all speculation of course, but based on McGrady’s history, let’s just call it an educated guess.
Rockets 44 – Sonics 44
Well, after a quarter and a half of play, we can safely say two things:
1. The Rockets are not fans of the afternoon start. They’ve once again managed to produce little more than a yawn with their performance thus far.
2. Tracy McGrady isn’t anywhere close to 100 percent. He’s strictly a jump-shooting perimeter player right now (yes, even more than before) who doesn’t even draw a double team for the most part. Of course, T-Mac says if he waited for his knee to be 100 percent, he wouldn’t be coming back this year. Sigh. Something tells me this isn’t going to end well.
By the way, most impressive rookie so far this afternoon: It’s not who you think. Right now, I’d say it’s a tie between Carl Landry and Jeff Green. Both have been terrific, and I’m not sure what’s more impressive: Green’s pair of monster dunks, or the fact he’s a dead ringer for abstinence legend A.C. Green.
Halftime: Rockets 53 – Sonics 52
From reader Jose: “Why is Tracy just standing there in the offense?”
Dude, I wish I had an answer for you. T-Mac played (if you can call it that) nearly 14 first half minutes and I still can’t figure out why. His top speed right now seems to be a light jog. Offensively, he’s relegated to spot-up shooter and half-involved facilitator. On defense, he’s completely useless. Why Seattle doesn’t just feed the ball to his man and just repeatedly abuse him I’m not sure.
Here’s the real killer, though: When T-Mac was out, Rafer Alston looked like a bona fide NBA point guard most of the time. Now, it seems like we’re getting glimpses of the old Rafer more often. Perhaps it’s just me. The mind sees what it wants to see more often than not. But I do know this: If this is the Tracy we’re going to get, he might as well take a seat. Because this T-Mac is not a difference maker and won’t help the club make its much-needed playoff push.
Rockets 66 – Sonics 63
Throughout the season, I’ve remarked that the Rockets appear to be missing that indefinable spark or fire. For some teams, that comes from the coach. Others get it from teammates like the Pistons’ Rasheed Wallace. The players in the Rockets’ locker room don’t buy my theory; they say that sort of thinking is more a media creation than anything else.
But teams lacking that bulldog mentality have a tendency to play up (and down) to the level of their competition. It’s why certain clubs can hang with the likes of San Antonio and Detroit, but fall flat against also-rans like Philadelphia and Seattle. Sound familiar?
In other news, looks like I’m not the only one who noticed T-Mac’s minimalistic first half performance. He was just on the receiving end of a lukewarm (at best) second half introduction.
Rockets 77 – Sonics 68
Rockets go on a major roll to finish off the third quarter, seizing a 12-point lead before Wally Szczerbiak’s trey at the buzzer. So now Houston has a chance to (sort of) make amends for the Philly loss. Can they immediately deliver the knockout punch to a clearly inferior team? Or will they let them hang around, giving a heretofore quiet Kevin Durant a chance to make some magic?
If the Rockets have truly learned their lesson, this one should be over in the next ten minutes or so.
A couple other notes: Tracy McGrady seems to be moving a bit better (at least on offense) and his dribble penetration and passing have really sparked the offense.
Also, I know a few Rockets fans desperate for point guard help have asked for the club to acquire Sonics’ guard Luke Ridnour. Hopefully seeing Ridnour’s mediocre play in person has helped them see the light.
M.A.L. wants to know about the Rocket Power Dancers, and for good reason. I, too, noticed the “Baby Got Back” routine and was shocked. I mean, this is still a family environment, right? Not trying to be a prude or anything, and I’m not saying it’s right or wrong, I was just surprised that routine got green-lighted.
I can report that routine was not topped today, but it wasn’t for lack of effort. Their second half performance was done to the tune of “Push It” by Salt N Peppa. If you know the lyrics, you can just imagine how it looked on the floor. Happy daydreaming.
Rockets 87 – Sonics 81
Let’s call this one the tale of two T-Macs. In the first half, McGrady was but a whisper, simply hovering over the proceedings like a shadow. Perhaps he just needed the time to get his knee warmed up, because the second half has borne witness to the play-making, shot-making T-Mac who teases and tantalizes with his talent.
3:30 to go. The Rockets have been unable to shake the Sonics. Draw your own conclusions.
Rockets 91 – Sonics 85
Ed wants to know what I think about Yao and I just realized I’ve been horribly negligent by failing to mention him up to this point.
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Yao is like the good kid in class you never have to worry about. He always works hard, always does his work, and you never have to get on his case for anything. He may not be the best ever, but you’ll take his kind every day of the week because he’s a model student you can always count on. Unfortunately, the byproduct of his steadiness is that he sometimes gets overlooked and is occasionally underappreciated.
Of course, Yao being Yao, he doesn’t worry about such things. He just puts his head down and works even harder.
Looks like the Rockets are going to pull this one out. I’ve got to get ready to head down to the locker room for interviews. Thanks to everyone for taking part and contributing. It was a blast. We’ll definitely have to do it again.
Post-game reaction and commentary to come. – Jason Friedman