Sunday, November 23, 2008

Busy week

The Rockets played four games in six nights this week and won three of them. It started in Oklahoma City where the Rockets handled the Thunder with apparent ease, though ultimately the game proved costly. Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady both tweaked old injuries and Ron Artest sprained his ankle. Yao was held out of the Dallas game two days later for precautionary reasons. McGrady and Artest both played, but neither was 100%. Dallas thrashed the undermanned Rockets, with Nowitzki scoring 24 and perennial Rocket-killer Jason Terry hitting 13 of 21 shots for 31 points. All hands were on deck for the back-back games against Washington and Orlando and the Rockets used strong fourth quarters to pull out a pair of road victories.

After the OKC game, McGrady gave lip-service to "shutting it down for a while", obviously frustrated by the nagging injuries that are preventing him from being the T-Mac of old. To his credit, he suited up and gave it his best against Dallas. There was a story before the season began in reference to his sitting out virtually the entire pre-season. An unnamed teammate was quoted as saying that Tracy wanted the fame and accolades of being a superstar, but didn't want to pay the price for it. Those of us who have never been in the Rockets' training room or (obviously) inside Tracy's head cannot judge how bad his pain really is, but it's not the first time it's been said.

At 9-5, the Rockets are tied for second in the Western Conference behind only the Lakers. Obviously that's not bad and if they maintain that rate, 53 wins will probably get them home field advantage for the playoffs. The biggest concern is inconsistency. They've lost a couple they should have won. The probable cause is injuries. The nagging pain experienced by the Rockets' superstars can be worse some nights than others. What they need most is another player that brings all he has to the court every single night.

Shane! Come back Shane!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Hills and valleys

The Rockets just completed a long road trip that must have felt like a very tall roller coaster. The longest trip of the season was made necessary because the very prestigious Latin Grammies were being held at the Toyota Center and needed several days before and after to prepare the facilities. I'm not being facetious about the prestige part. The Latin Grammies are huge throughout most of the world. Juanes was dominating, winning five grammies. If you have not heard his music, by all means check it out. He is very talented and his music is contagious. But back to the Rockets.

Following victories in each of their first three games of the season, the Rockets suffered a loss at home to the World Champion Boston Celtics in which they were never really out of the game by the numbers, but the Celtics seemed in command throughout.

The road trip began two days later in Portland with a deflating loss in overtime. Brandon Roy hit a desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer in a hard-fought game the Rockets thought they had won. But to their credit, after a long flight back down the Pacific coast, they bounced back to beat the Clippers the following night. OK, so it was only the Clippers, but that's a lot of traveling and after a tough loss, they could have phoned it in - but didn't. Two days later, the Lakers showed the Rockets why they were in the finals last year by pretty much slapping the Rockets all around Staples Center. Too much R&R time in La-La land?

Following two days rest, the Phoenix Suns posed a lesser challenge, falling to the Rockets by 12 points. Unfortunately, the game was clouded by the loss of Rafer Alston for two games for fighting with Phoenix forward Matt Barnes. Alston rightly felt that Barnes had gone beyond setting a hard pick and - not rightly - retaliated with vigor. Barnes and Alston were both ejected and ultimately suspended for two games. Steve Nash was suspended for one game for joining in the skirmish and Tracy McGrady was fined $25,000. Now here's the part I like. When commenting on the event, McGrady felt that Alston should not have been suspended for as long as Barnes because Barnes started it. Ok, a legitimate argument. Then he said, "About the 25, I don’t care about that." He didn't care about losing $25,000. Let me repeat that. He didn't care about losing $25,000! Sigh.

Finally back in Texas on Friday night, the Spurs staged a last minute comeback from a 14 point fourth quarter deficit to pin another hard-to-take loss on the Rockets, ending a 2-3 trip that was mostly forgettable for their overall mediocre play.

But the bounce-back boys were not finished. They played their second back-to-back game in as many weeks against the Hornets in the Toyota Center and dominated the Hornets throughout. At first glance it seems like the Rockets are either out of shape or lack team depth, based on the fact that they lost two of their games on comebacks in the fourth quarter. But they have played three back-to-back games this year and won all three. The only word I can find for them so far is inconsistent. Let's hope they can find the team chemistry that enabled them to win 22 in a row last year.

So in a tough two weeks when they played seven games in 12 days, mostly on the road, they finished at 3-4. They beat some good teams and lost to both teams that played in the finals last year. Not exactly disheartening, but they definitely have some work to do.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

3 down, 79 to go

I'll take a 3-0 start, even though the Rockets have looked less than perfect in stretches. But to state the obvious, a win is a win.

Granted, the Memphis Grizzlies and Oklahoma City Thunder (that one still takes some getting used to) are far from elite, but the Rockets also beat the Dallas Mavericks in Dallas on a back-to-back night. By any standards the Mavericks are formidable, especially at home. I hear the rose-colored glasses saying that the quality of the opponents don't matter. They are all professional teams that can win on any given night. That was a common refrain last year during the 22 game win streak in which the Rockets enjoyed a relatively soft schedule. The streak was a great accomplishment, but let's be honest. Should the heavyweight champion receive the same accolades for defeating a tired old club fighter as he would for beating the number one contender? A lucky punch notwithstanding, the champ should win. That's not being negative, just realistic.

Actually, I am an optimist. I think the Rockets are a contender and will only improve as Ron Artest feels his way into the chemistry of the team and Shane Battier comes back from injury. 3-0? I'll take it and love it!