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Friday, September 22, 2023


Rockets’ fortunes hinge on big man

The dynamic of the Houston Rockets changed immediately when they lost Yao Ming to a stress fracture in his foot in last year’s playoffs.

Yao’s loss meant the Rockets had free reign to speed up their style of play for the 2009-10 season.

The Rockets are 24-21 and sit in fourth place in the crowded Southwest Division. For the most part, the Rockets have exceeded expectations.

They are battling for a playoff spot in the Western Conference and have managed to stay in contention for a majority of the season. They’ve had quality wins against the elite teams. At the start of the season, their offense might have struggled, but they’ve gone on to average 100.8 points per game, which is 12th in the league.

Yet, as the midpoint of the season approaches, the Rockets’ problems are starting to show.

They defeated the first-place Dallas Mavericks, 97-94, on New Year’s Eve at Toyota Center, giving them their best record of the season at 20-13. Since then, they have gone 4-8, and over that span, have allowed 104.1 points per game.

It’s no coincidence. The Rockets have struggled because as their focus on defense has lapsed, they’ve had to play more in the half court. When the other team scores, they are forced to take the ball out of bounds and walk it up the court, instead of getting out on the break, where they are most effective.

The Rockets have young but talented players, who have improved and should continue to improve. But none of them are go-to scorers that can take over a game when the rest of the team isn’t scoring. They rely on speed and athleticism to score, which is why the Rockets try to run on every possession.

Teams are recognizing that the Rockets can’t stop penetration, and have no shot blocking force down low. The Rockets lack an inside presence defensively, and teams are taking advantage.

However, the trade deadline is Feb. 19, and the Rockets can still make a trade if they choose.

With the falling out of Tracy McGrady, the Rockets have been in trade talks to move his $23 million expiring contract. Teams like the 76ers and Knicks have shown interest.

If the Rockets decide to pursue a deal, it is imperative they receive a big man who can rebound and alter shots around the basket. They don’t need a scorer; they need somebody who specializes at the defensive end so the Rockets can get more stops.

The Rockets still may not make the playoffs, but a defensive specialist would help their fast-paced style.

The Rockets also must face the possibility that Yao may never return, and if he does, he may not be the same. So the Rockets would still need a viable big man for the future.

Players like Samuel Dalembert, Jordan Hill, or perhaps Joakim Noah, could provide the defensive presence the Rockets so sorely need.

Either way, time is of the essence and the rest of the league won’t be standing pat.

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