After clearing their head during the All-Star break, the Rockets won in impressive fashion over New Jersey 114-88 at Toyota Center Tuesday night, showing again that without McGrady in the lineup, they are a tougher team to beat. The numbers don’t lie. The Rockets are now 13-6 without him around. More to come about the game after our daily drama report about McGrady.
Yao prepares to throw down a vicious one-handed dunk over fellow countryman Yi Jianlian. Yao would lead all Rockets in scoring with 20 points. Click here for more game photos.
It was reported by ESPN late Tuesday night that McGrady said he would have to get season-ending microfracture surgery on his left knee. This is after all of the confusing messages that have been coming from him over the past few weeks, but with Rocket doctors still holding firm that nothing is structurally wrong with his knee. Someone isn’t telling the truth. You can probably guess who isn’t, but I guess we’ll all find out soon as more tests are conducted over the next couple of days.
I’m thinking there has been a big delay in everyone understanding the real story because 1) the Rockets aren’t really motivated to have McGrady play because they are playing well without him, 2) McGrady is a nut so why embarrass him, and 3) the Rockets’ annual Tux & Tennies Gala is Wednesday night, and if the Rockets made a major announcement before the event, it might taint the entire evening, and maybe even make some big-time contributors unhappy that they can’t sit next to the players they were expecting to see. So if a big trade happens, expect to hear about it on Thursday after Tux & Tennies.
I won’t get into the timeline of what has been said by McGrady over the past few weeks that has made this whole drama such a cluster. I’d be writing about it forever. You probably already know most of it, so no need to report it.
The latest confusing part of the plot is Rockets’ owner Leslie Alexander saying late Tuesday night that McGrady was NOT going to be traded, and that McGrady is “a superstar” and “a great competitor.”
I respect Alexander’s assessments much of the time, but with these kinds of statements, Leslie should run for Congress.
Why would an owner take a bargaining chip off the table like this, less than 2 days before the trading deadline? If he’s bluffing to increase McGrady’s value, then fine. But if he does trade McGrady before Thursday’s deadline, then he will lose credibility when he makes similar statements down the road.
Maybe Alexander said it because McGrady will need to have surgery after all and he’s virtually un-tradeable right now because of it. But that would conflict with every report that has come out about McGrady’s knee for months.
It’s really strange to see so much confusion from the Rockets, which typically is a fairly straightforward group from a news perspective. That’s the kind of drama that the loose-lipped McGrady has brought to the situation, and I think it has been a major distraction to his teammates. It’s borderline Marbury-ish.
If the Rockets don’t move McGrady before Thursday, then all I have to say is Ron Artest better not be part of a different deal. That would be a major step back unless the player in return is a big-time superstar that will fit in perfectly with this team. Artest may not be the stud everyone thought he was going to be so far this season, but with him now starting since McGrady is out, we’re seeing the impact we knew he could bring when he came to Houston over the summer.
Tuesday night he was hustling on fast breaks, hitting his shots, and is obviously energized without having someone else dominating the basketball and jacking up stupid 3-pointers. Compared to McGrady, Artest has much more mental toughness that I think the Rockets really need if they are going to try to make a run for a high playoff seed in the West.
In addition to Artest, here is my list of players who I believe are least touchable, in priority order.
– Landry and Scola (they are ‘the future’)
– Von Wafer (he could be the McGrady of the future)
– Aaron Brooks (another part of their future, but I could part with him if given the right deal)
After that, everyone is fair game, including:
– Future draft picks
– Barry and Hayes
– Dikembe (maybe do him a favor and trade him to a major contender, if he wants)
Another way to interpret this list is that if you start from the bottom of the list, the players near the bottom of it are most expendable.
If McGrady is indeed out for the rest of the season, then I’m inclined for the Rockets to not do any major trades if it involves any of the players on my list from Wafer on up. Considering that the Rockets’ offense was humming again Tuesday night, the defense was back, and not burdened and distracted by McGrady’s presence, they played like the disappointing losses that occurred before the All-Star break were a distant memory.
There is legitimate hope in the air again. That’s two big victories in a row with McG out. Then if they can trade him during the off-season for whatever needs are revealed in the playoffs, then you do that deal.
I wish the rumors floating all-day Tuesday about New Jersey’s Vince Carter, in town for the game to show Houston his skills, was going to be part of a cousin-for-cousin trade. But then the Rockets denied that rumor, too.
Too bad. Carter really showed me something that McGrady hasn’t done in quite awhile – attacking the basket frequently for high-percentage shots — and finishing with an easy 30 points on 11-of-21 shooting in 35 minutes of action.
Leading Houston in scoring was Yao, who made 9-of-15 shots for 20 points, grabbed 12 boards, and even dished out 3 assists.
At first Yao was having problems with rookie Brook Lopez, who blocked two of Yao’s shots in the first couple of minutes of the game. Since this was only the second time Yao had played against Lopez, Yao would make adjustments by taking him outside for jumpers and some nice moves in the paint to keep Lopez off balance, like with 6:20 remaining in the game when he made a spin move in the lane that completely faked Lopez out. We knew it was just a matter of time when Yao would make adjustments to Long Arms” Lopez.
One of my favorite plays came with 2:43 remaining in the first quarter when Yao grabbed an offensive rebound under the basket with one hand, cradled it, then threw it down over Yi Jianlian with authority (pictured above), bringing the bench off their feet and left the crowd buzzing.
That aggressive move gave Houston their first lead, 17-16, that was part of 17-1 run that put the Rockets ahead 27-17 by the end of the first quarter. They would never look back.
The other play I enjoyed involving Yao occurred with about 3:13 remaining in the third quarter when Yao raised his arms above his head to catch a high pass, but it glanced off his outstretched fingers, the ball went up on the rim and fell through the net for the bucket!
Yao was a little stunned at first that they scored on the play, but as he was running up the court to get back on defense, his teammates were smiling and Yao couldn’t help but laugh himself. That’s probably the biggest grin I’ve ever seen Yao have while the play clock is running, except for maybe during his rookie year when he hit his first 3-pointer against Golden State.
Also deserving props was Rafer Alston, who ran the fast break wonderfully, dishing nice passes to Luis Scola and Ron Artest for layups, including some no-look and wraparound dimes that were Skip-to-my-Lou-ish. Alston would finish with 11 assists and 9 points, with all buckets coming on 3-of-5 shooting from behind the arc.
With the ball-stopper McGrady out of the lineup, Shane Battier got really good looks from behind the 3-point line as great ball movement found him wide open. Shane would hit 5-of-7 three-pointers and finish with 19 points and 9 rebounds. That’s not going to happen every night for Battier, but at least we know he’s still capable of contributing offensively when the ball-stopper isn’t on the court. Funny how the Rockets racked up 27 assists on 40 field goals without The Facilitator around.
Finally, Von Wafer got back to his scoring, aggressive self by scoring 19 points and hitting 4-of-6 trey attempts.
As good as the offense was scoring 114 points, the defense reverted back to the old JVG days, holding the Nets to 40% shooting and the Rockets outrebounding them 56-30.
With the defense returning and ball movement back in the offense, it’s actually fun to look forward to the Rockets’ next game, with Dallas coming to Houston on Friday. It’ll be interesting to see what happens on Thursday. Hopefully not too many changes other than a solid role player in return for you-know-who. I’m just hoping Daryl Morey doesn’t do something crazy and trade Scola or Landry.