Rusty Rockets having trouble taking off
In an NBA season where the Portland Trail Blazers won 16 of their last 17 games without Greg Oden, and the Boston Celtics (29-3) are on track for 70 wins, the Houston Rockets can be perceived as underachievers at 18-17 in 35 games.
If the playoffs started today, Yao Ming and teammates would be watching from home.
In the strong Western Conference, the Rockets must improve in order to compete with the rise of the New Orleans Hornets (23-11), the Blazers (21-13) and the Golden State Warriors (20-15).
The Rockets sit at fourth in the Western Conference’s Southwest Division, six games behind the first-place San Antonio Spurs.
They have, however, won three consecutive games over the Orlando Magic, the New York Knicks and the Washington Wizards, and they face the underwhelming Knicks and Minnesota Timberwolves in coming days. After that, they meet up with the Hornets on Sunday at the Toyota Center.
The injury report for the Rockets remains the same with Tracy McGrady, the team’s leader in points, assists and steals, out for 7-10 days with a left knee bruise, and Steve Francis out indefinitely with a minor inner quad injury. The Rockets are 7-2 without McGrady, and look to make a run in the West as the All- Star Game in New Orleans approaches in early February.
Aaron Brooks and Steve Novak, the Rockets’ draft picks over the last couple years, have stepped up recently during the Rockets’ winning streak. Brooks has been getting quality bench minutes and Novak is back after being called up from the NBA Developmental League. Brooks scored 22 points – a season high – in a recent win over the Knicks on Jan. 5, and Novak had eight points and five rebounds in a game against the Warriors last month.
The Rockets have been underachieving this year despite McGrady and Yao continuing to be a great tandem, but the team’s record proves otherwise.
In a strong conference where younger and more athletic teams are improving, the Rockets should continue to rely on good point-guard play from Rafer Alston and hope McGrady returns quickly.
In an offseason where the Rockets brought in Mike James, Steve Francis and Aaron Brooks to challenge Alston for the spot, Alston’s great preseason and team injuries have caused head coach Rick Adelman to keep Alston as the starter.
Though his play is not great, Alston is consistent and he even hit a game-winning shot against the Magic in early January. The Rockets will need Alston to play strongly, as the Rockets need to win games and improve their record.