I’m going to do something that I rarely do. Because I have to wake up early in the morning, I’ve got to make this short. So I won’t be commenting much about the Rockets victory over the LA Clippers Wednesday night. They did what was expected of them, and that can’t be taken for granted compared to previous Rocket teams that underachieved in the past. So kudos go to them for taking care of business. Luis Scola led the way with 22 points.
Now we know they’re going to play the Jazz in the first round, and will have homecourt advantage in that series. What a relief! Thank you San Antonio (for once)! This time last week, I was hoping the Rockets would be a 1st or 2nd seed in the West which would match them up with Denver or Dallas. But I’ll take a first-round matchup against the Jazz. I’d much rather play them than the Suns or Spurs, which would be happening if they were the 3rd or 6th seed, respectively. If that had happened, I would have been pissed.
I like the fact the Rockets, not expected to beat the Jazz in the series, have some unfinished business to take care of from last season’s series loss. If this rematch can’t motivate the Rockets to play their best, then nothing will. So much pain was experienced from that series, the idea of getting revenge has GOT to be a factor for the Rockets. That’s why I liked Tracy McGrady‘s quote after the game on Wednesday:
“I want to play the Jazz, because they are the team that beat us. That’s just being a competitor. As a competitor, you want to play them again.”
It reminds me a little bit when the Rockets had such a hard time beating the Sonics in the early to mid-1990’s, but finally beat them in a playoff series after acquiring Charles Barkley. It took awhile, but they finally made the adjustments to beat that team. Hopefully everything the Rockets did in the off-season in getting more athletic power forwards – Luis Scola and Carl Landry, an improved Rafer Alston (hopefully he can play starting in Game 3), speed in the backcourt (Aaron Brooks), and a veteran point guard (Bobby Jackson) will be enough.
There are so many keys to this series, but I think when it’s all said and done, it will be the defining moment of Tracy McGrady’s career in Houston. If they lose the series because of hoisting ill-advised jumpers and not attacking the basket, he’s gone. It’s that simple. There are only so many chances you can give a guy before you say, “He doesn’t get it,” and then move in a different direction.
Along the way, there are other interesting stories to watch unfold. Can Luther Head step up and pick up some of the scoring slack in Alston’s absence because of the hamstring. This is his time, too, to show if he is worthy of being a Rocket after this season.
Will Scola and Landry be that 1-2 punch that will offset Carlos Boozer in this series? Can they keep Paul Millsap and Ronnie Brewer off the boards?
Will Aaron Brooks’ speed and 3-point shooting be a difference maker that the Rockets didn’t have last year?
Can Steve Novak‘s experience this season be a factor from long-range to offset Mehmet Okur ‘s shooting?
Can Bobby Jackson and his experience give Derron Williams fits this playoff series, unlike last year when Williams had his way with the Rockets.
Can Shane Battier slow down Andrei Kirilenko and keep him off the boards? Will they switch Battier on Okur to help defend on his outside shooting?
Will the move to replace the offensively-challenged Jeff Van Gundy with Rick Adelman ‘s system pay off?
Hopefully what we saw on Monday night in the Jazz’s rout of the Rockets isn’t an indicator of things to come in this series. You’ve got to think that loss in Utah will give them an idea of what to expect in Utah when they head up there for Games 3 and 4.
It was those same games (3 & 4) when the Rockets thought they had the Jazz on the ropes after going up 2-0 in the series last season. If the Rockets are able to take care of business in Houston in Games 1 & 2, you have got to expect the most intensely focused effort to avoid what happened last season.
It is going to be a whale of a series, like all the Western Conference series’. I can’t wait for it to get started. You can just feel the drama for what’s at stake for the Rockets, especially McGrady.
I’ll have more thoughts about this series leading up to Saturday’s Game 1. Tip-off is 8:30pm Houston time.