Saturday , Nov , 17 , 2007 C.Y. Ellis

Failure to Launch: Will the Houston Rockets Learn Anything This Time?

In order for the Rocket to win it all this year, they need to use their time without T-Mac to their advantage. In just about every year that I can remember, there have been stretches of time without Yao or T-Mac. However, when they get their two All-Stars back and at full strength, they return to a two-man offensive game.

In all of drama and adventure, the hero goes through a “dark time” to learn a lesson or two and apply it to his adventure. For example, Maverick learns to harness his incredible piloting skills in a more disciplined manner after Goose dies. In every National Lampoon Vacation movie, Clark Griswold goes through some hard times to learn that his real treasure is the love of his family. I can’t wait to break out Christmas Vacation soon.

Last night, San Antonio pushed past a T-Mac-Less Houston squad 90-84 There were some positives for Houston during this game. 

Depending on who you talk to, the Spurs either did a good job of defending or fouling Yao in the post:

With the Spurs fronting him and sending double teams as soon as he caught the ball, Yao made 7 of 16 shots to finish with 14 points. He shockingly didn’t shoot a single free throw in 39 minutes of action.

"Did they front me? I call that hold me," Yao said. "I don’t remember the last time that I didn’t have any free throws in a game. Probably back to my rookie year."

T-Mac’s early departure from the playoffs lies squarely on the shoulders of his teammates and his coaches who have consistently refused to apply the lessons they learn in his absence. Yao has reached his plateau. He is an enormous man with enough physical skills to stay out of Shawn Bradley Territory, but that is about it. If he had better sharp-shooters around him, he would probably rack up more assists because his height makes his a decent passer. Anyone else remember when Nate Robinson stuffed him and made Yao cry? (Okay, poked him in the eye).

I don’t think the off-season moves helped them. 

First, the new “faster” style does not suit Yao well. As a Suns fan, I love it when they play the Rockets. Within 6 minutes of the first period, Yao is always half his size, bent over holding his shorts desperately trying to breath. Too much up-and-down movement is not his game. The Suns, quite literally, run him out of the gym. If the Rockets are judicious about picking their spots, I can see it working. If they’re going for the up-tempo style, they are going to be in trouble.

Second, they have not added depth in the off-season, they have added breadth. They are no deeper, they have simply added more of the same. There are a few more slightly-above-mediocre players on the team than they had last year. Last year they had Shane Battier and Chuck Hayes. This year, they have Battier, Hayes, Mike James and Luis Scola. Scola might make me eat those words in a few years, but not this year. Stevie Franchise is a step backward. There’s a reason he’s yet to appear in a game; I’m not sure he’s even put on a uniform yet.

So, now, they have more players to carry the load when Yao and/or T-Mac is injured (they have more breadth) but they have not increased the quality level of their play (which is depth). When the Big Two are at full strength, though, will the offense revert to 2 Rockets and 3 guys in red watching? 

The new “up-tempo” offense is Fool’s Gold because it does not play to the strength of the Rockets’ second-best player. Ball movement and creative offense CAN occur in the half-court. 

When the Rockets lose again in the playoffs, it will not be McGrady’s fault. The only way for them to win is for the rest of his team to apply the lessons they learn in his absence in games in which he plays. He really needs his teammates to carry their load when he gets back.