NBA hits parity, will the Rockets participate?
In previous seasons, one team or another has run away from the pack by this point in the season. Last year it was Dallas (until they hit the Golden State buzz saw). But this year, with the exception of Boston running away from the rest of a very weak Atlantic conference, most of the top teams are taking turns beating one another.
It would be the prefect setting for the Rockets to get their act together, as the team in the Western Conference with two starting all-stars. Maybe this last stretch of games has shown they just might.
In the West, San Antonio and Phoenix are in the lead, yet both have looked vulnerable; SA has lost 3 of their last 5, including home losses to Phoenix and Toronto (??). Phoenix has recently been beaten by Dallas and the Lakers on the road. Dallas, next in the standings, lost to Cleveland at home and Utah on the road this week. The top 8 teams are all within 4 games of each other in the Western Conference standings, with the Rockets and Utah 9th and 10th at six games back.
In the East, the split is a little larger, but the top teams keep beating each other. Boston has only lost three games, but those were to their top rivals Orlando and Cleveland on the road and a home game to Detroit. Boston’s record is somewhat inflated by playing in the weakest division (they are 7-0 in division play) and by not having to play any of the top teams in the West (they have beat the Lakers and Utah last night, but have not played SA, Dallas, Phoenix or Houston).
The Rockets, meanwhile, have clawed their way back to .500 with a win at home last night vs. Toronto. They have done it without the now oft-injured T-Mac, and are finally starting to get some support from Scola, Rafer and Bonzi. And Adelman finally is giving point rookie point guard Aaron Brooks minutes in the mix; the Rockets are terrible at fast break points (somewhat due to Yao’s lack of “fleetness of foot”, and the speedy Brooks should help this.
Scola’s play has been reason for optimism itself; if he can become consistent (i.e., stay out of foul trouble) he can fill the hole in the offense that his defensive standout Chuck Hayes.
They could take a hint from Portland, a team which has, in spite of (or maybe because of) missing rookie Greg Oden for the season, run off 12 straight wins, with a very young lineup.
The Rockets have a mixed-bag schedule in January to try to make a run, starting off on the road against Boston and Orlando and hitting SA in the middle, with a smattering of weaker teams in between.
If the Rockets can stay healthy, or should I say if Yao and McGrady can stay healthy, they should be fine. They’re the team with the most upward potential.
Farid, I agree. They need to play to that potential, which they have not done on a consistent basis when Yao and T-Mac are in the lineup. But the last few games have been a good sign. We’ll see when they go to play Boston and Orlando in the first week of the new year.