I have a pre-game ritual of sorts for Rockets home games: About an hour or two before tip-off, I arrive at Toyota Center, pick up my press credential and parking pass, park my car, make my way into the arena and find my spot along press row before finally settling in to complete some last-minute prep work for the game. It’s not exciting, but it’s worked for me all season long.
Saturday night, prior to game one of the Rockets’ first round series with Utah, that ritual got turned on its ear.
It started when I was informed by the Rockets always-affable media relations coordinator Allan Rojas that all the parking passes had already been gobbled up. He apologized profusely, but it really wasn’t a big deal. A few weeks ago, a fellow media member had told me about a nearby hotel parking lot he used many times in a pinch. So away I went. Upon arrival, I noticed a bevy of signs warning non hotel residents that their cars were subject to be towed. But no worries, I knew this was the right spot. So I parked with confidence, despite the danger signs posted all around me.
Which brings me to the Rockets’ game one performance. Everyone knew the perils presented by Utah heading into this series: The Jazz possess superior size and point guard play, while Houston counters with a squad short on offensive weapons and free throw shooting ability. But the hope within Clutch City was that somehow, someway this Rockets team could buck the odds to overcome the obvious pitfalls before them.
They couldn’t, and neither could I.
First, the good news: Like my $191 donation to the local tow lot, the Rockets 93-82 loss was a painful lesson, but not a lethal one. Win game two Monday night and watch the H-Town frowns turn upside down.
And now the bad: For me, avoiding disaster is simply a matter of not being an idiot. For the Rockets, the solution is a tad more complex, because they must somehow find a way to overcome a match-up nightmare and defeat a better, healthier Jazz team in four of the next six games.
It’s a task that borders on the Herculean; which means, as much as it pains me to add to his already cumbersome burden, the bulk of the heavy lifting must be done by Tracy McGrady. Except T-Mac doesn’t need to summon his inner Hercules; instead, he must conjure the spirit of LeBron and attempt to haul his rather nondescript supporting cast to victory. That is not to absolve McGrady’s teammates of their own massive responsibility. Scola, Jackson, Landry and the like have to figure out a way to contribute more to the Houston cause. But it’s no coincidence that, during the moments when the Rockets looked their best, T-Mac was the one leading the charge.
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Does he have it in him at this stage of his career, with his left shoulder aching and legs which have clearly lost a step? When you see McGrady go scoreless during a fourth quarter which saw him defended by none other than Kyle Korver, you have to wonder. Of course, his critics will say he never had it in him in the first place. But this conversation is not about the past; it’s about the future. And for the Rockets to have one, T-Mac must show them the way.
His quest resumes Monday night. He knows what has to be done.
And so do I.
Hopefully it works out for both of us. - Jason Friedman