Dear Diary

Once upon a time, I thought mock drafts were the cheapest trick in the sports blogger’s repertoire. Out of ideas for a column? Just whip up a new mock draft. But then I discovered the running diary. What an ingenious invention. Simply pick your event of choice, make fun of the announcers, deliver a few sage comments and voila! With a minimal amount of effort and creative thought, you’ve got something to hand in to your slave-driving editor.

So never one to pass up on an opportunity to display my laziness, I figured I owed it to myself to give the ol’ running diary thing a try. Besides, you already know I’ve sunk low enough to go the mock draft route (FYI, my final mock will be available on Friday), so there’s no use pretending I’m above the fray. And since nobody else is talking about them, I think the Houston Rockets should prove to be a suitable subject for this experiment. Of course, if Game One was any indication as to how this series will be played, you might end up seeing a whole lot of “zzzzzzzzzzz” on your monitor. Anyway, on with the show!

8:22 Prediction time. I think Utah wins tonight, 95-91. I know, I know. I’m so negative. I just feel like Okur and Boozer will actually show up this evening and Deron Williams scares the bejeezus out of me (and every other Rockets’ fan, for that matter). As long as I’m casting a black cloud over the proceedings, I should also add that I expect Houston’s inability to close out games will rear its ugly head tonight and I wasn’t encouraged by Tracy McGrady’s refusal to go the rim in Game 1. In that maddening respect, T-Mac and Vince Carter aren’t merely distant cousins, they’re practically blood brothers.

8:25 On the plus side, I just remembered that Andrei Kirilenko broke down in tears during Sunday’s practice. As my man, K-Knight, said, “I guess that means Andrei decided to use his freebie in H-town last night”. So he probably won’t have much left in his legs, which is good, right?

8:29 A few comments on this weekend’s other match-ups: Do you think NBA experts all over the country were diving into their neighborhood mailboxes to amend their MVP ballots after watching Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavs stink up the joint Sunday night? I know it was just one game, but come on. I don’t know how many times I have to make this point: How can a guy win MVP (and Dirk will) when he has a propensity to wilt during crunch time? Of course, they gave the award to Karl Malone once upon a time, too. And we all saw how that turned out. Don’t get me wrong, I picked Dallas to win in 6 and I’m standing by that prediction. It’s no surprise to see Golden State give the Mavericks fits. But I really hope the voters took notice.

8:33 Which leads me to the real MVP, Steve Nash. Again, there’s no reason for me to re-state the case for everyone’s favorite Canadian. By now you either get it or you don’t. But I will say this: His club is sitting mighty pretty right now. I know we’re barely out of the starting gate, but the Suns should have no problem cruising past the Kobes in round one. Meanwhile, the Mavs and Spurs are going to get all they can handle from the Warriors and Nuggets, respectively. Considering no team out West needs the rest like Phoenix (due to their style of play and short bench), this could be a subtle but significant development that increases their chances to finally make it past the Conference Finals.

8:49 We’re seconds away from the opening tip. Which broadcast do I watch? FSN or TNT? I’m starting with TNT. Sorry, Clyde. Loved you as a player, can’t stand you as an analyst. And don’t even get me started on your dancing. Yikes. You make me look good (heretofore thought to be impossible).

8:55 Boozer has come out on fire (10 points in the first four minutes), Tracy is settling for jumpers and Deron Williams just drilled a trey. I promise I wrote my intro before the game started. Making matters worse, Brad Lidge is about to get shelled in Philly. I think I can hear John Royal’s head exploding from here.

9:02 Stop the presses! Brad Lidge just struck out the side after allowing the first two Phillies he faced to reach second and third. Unfortunately, Carlos Boozer is about to do a reverse triple-salchow dunk from the 3 point line as flames belch forth from his posterior. At least that’s what he’d be doing if this were NBA Jam.

9:08 How much do you love Chuck Hayes, Rockets fans? That guy spends more time on the floor than Jenna Jameson. This should be his theme song. Go ahead and check out the link. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

9:09 Astros just lost 11-4 and Chris Sampson got shelled. All of a sudden, Houston’s starting pitching is looking very vulnerable. I feel a Royal diatribe in the making.

9:14 Not a pretty first quarter for the Rockets. 26-17, Utah. Meanwhile, T-Mac and Yao are a combined 3-12 from the floor. On the plus side, I guess we won’t have to worry about the Rockets jumping out to a fast start and then blowing a big lead late. Maybe it’s better this way.

9:20 Yao just picked up his second personal foul. The call was questionable, but it allowed us a quick peek at the patented Yao Ming “You’ve got to be f’ing kidding me!” face. Just delightful. Nobody does it better.

9:28 I switched over to the FSN broadcast just in time for this gem from Clyde, “Boozer has a beautiful NBA body and he knows how to use it”. I’m speechless. Go ahead and insert your own joke, because I don’t have the heart. I’m just going to continue believing aliens abducted the real Drexler prior to his Dancing with the Stars debacle.

9:33 I know this is off-subject, but Alex Rodriguez just hit his 14th bomb of the season. I realize there are a lot of A-Rod haters out there and that it’s still early, but wouldn’t it be great to see him destroy Barry Bonds’ single-season mark? Now if only we could convince Tonya Harding to come out of retirement and do a number on the world’s largest cranium before he breaks Aaron’s record.

9:49 41-39 Utah at the break. Just another solid half of fundamental playoff basketball between the Comets and Starzz. Wait, this isn’t a WNBA game??? Could have fooled me. Seriously, no wonder Houston sports fans are largely apathetic toward the Rockets these days. While the rest of the NBA is picking up the pace, we’re stuck recreating the 1994 NBA Finals (also known as the series that momentarily allowed the NHL to steal the national sports spotlight).

9:52 What is up with Magic Johnson’s suit? Not only is the color horrific, but it also looks like he’s hiding Lord Voldemort in the back. And, yes, count me as one of the millions who can’t wait for the final installment of Harry Potter to be released this summer. 88 days to go. Giddy up. I hope it’s 2,000 pages long. I’m not even kidding.

10:08 Apparently, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is only 784 pages. First the desecration of Clyde the Glide and now this? I couldn’t be more crushed. Nothing else matters from this point on.

10:11 The Rockets take their first lead of the night, yet T-Mac continues to fire away (and miss) from long range. You’re being guarded by Derek Fisher, who is 7 inches shorter than you! Take it to the rim for the love of God!

10:19 Look. I’m not a basketball coach. I don’t pretend to be one. But after bricking a few more jumpers, Tracy finally took it to the rim, made the basket, got fouled and drew the fifth personal on Kirilenko. This isn’t Rocket science, guys. No pun intended. Seriously.

10:37 Houston takes a 67-62 lead into the fourth quarter. Though still shooting a poor percentage, Yao and T-Mac are at least putting points on the board while it looks like it’s either Boozer or bust for Utah. As long as Tracy doesn’t think he’s Ray Allen now that he finally drained a triple, the Rockets look poised to take a 2-0 series lead. Meanwhile, it appears as if Mehmet Okur has decided to call it an early night and hold off on making any sort of contribution until he returns to play in front of the good people of Utah.

10:50 Remember when I said we wouldn’t have to worry about the Rockets blowing a big lead tonight? Well, it just took Utah less than 60 seconds to cut a 12 point Houston lead in half. Still, I’m feeling confident for the first time tonight. No way the Rockets lose this one. Is that the kiss of death? Or just a feeble attempt to keep myself awake for the final eight minutes of a rather lackluster (and that’s being kind) playoff game.

11:00 Shane Battier may have inadvertently won the series for Houston. His Macho Man-esque flying elbow on Deron Williams was a doozy. Make no mistake, the Jazz have no chance against the Rockets without Williams.

11:02 Okay, Battier hit him with a shoulder, not an elbow. And it looks like Williams will be ok, if not tonight, then surely by Thursday. Ah, what do you know? He’s back on the court already.

11:06 Four point game, four minutes to go. It’s T-Mac time.

11:07 On cue, Tracy delivers a picture perfect lob to Yao for a dunk. Shades of Kobe to Shaq in 2000. Without the incredible atmosphere, emotion and championship stakes, of course. But besides that, everything else was exactly the same.

11:12 With an eight point lead and less than two minutes to go, T-Mac decides to clang another jumper (he’s now 8-28) about 6 seconds into the shot clock, allowing Utah to quickly make their way down court and cut the lead to a half dozen. Jeff Van Gundy has said that McGrady’s basketball IQ may be higher than anyone else in the league. Would anyone care to argue with me if I call shenanigans on that?

11:14 Coming out of a time-out, Tracy hits an impossible fall-away jumper along the baseline. That should be the dagger. I know I’m tough on the guy and I realize it’s easy for me to sit here and criticize his game. No doubt, the Rockets go nowhere without him. But for all of his offensive exploits, he still leaves me wanting more. Perhaps that’s more my problem than his. But, to me, it's not about winning this game or even the series. It's about winning a title. And those are not the kind of shots or decisions that win championships.

11:22 Rockets prevail 98-90, taking a 2-zip lead as the series shifts to Salt Lake. Story of the game: Houston goes an astounding 34-38 from the line while Utah is a pedestrian 13-17. Get ready to hear Jerry Sloan lobby (read: whine) for more calls to go his way at home. And I suspect he’ll get his wish. That’s just the way the NBA works. Now if you’ll excuse me, this game has left me feeling quite amorous toward my bed. Good night, everyone. – Jason Friedman

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