Wednesday , Oct , 26 , 2005 C.Y. Ellis

Houston Rockets 2005-06 Season Preview

=== Houston Rockets 2005-06 Season Preview ===

By Warren Blatt, NBA Editor

2004-05 FINISH: 51-31

OFFSEASON ADDITIONS: Rafer Alston (G) – Trade with Toronto; Derek Anderson (G)
– Signed with Houston; Stromile Swift (F) – Free Agent.

OFFSEASON SUBTRACTIONS: Vin Baker (F) – Waived;Mike James (G) – Traded to
Toronto; Scott Padgett (F) – Signed with New Jersey.

2005 DRAFT PICKS: 1. (24) Luther Head (G, Illinois).

PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP: PG Rafer Alston, SG David Wesley, SF Tracy McGrady,
PF Stromile Swift, C Yao Ming

COACH: Jeff Van Gundy

(Sports Network) – The last time Houston won a playoff series was in 1997. Is
this the season that it once again advances past the opening round?

The Rockets finished 51-31 in the 2004-05 regular season and were the fifth
seed in the postseason. In the first round of the playoffs, they won the first
two games of the best-of-seven series at Dallas, but lost the next three to
Mavericks and would eventually fall on the road in the decisive Game 7.

Superstar Tracy McGrady completed his first season with the Rockets, after
being acquired in a blockbuster trade in the 2004 offseason. He had an
excellent first campaign with Houston, as he led the team in scoring
(25.7 ppg) and assists (5.7 apg). He scored in double-digits in 77 of the 78
games he played during season.

In the postseason, McGrady averaged 30.7 points, 7.4 rebounds and 6.7 assists.
Unfortunately for the Rockets, McGrady’s impressive statistics were not enough
to get them into the conference semifinals.

All-Star center Yao Ming teamed with McGrady to give the Rockets a deadly
inside-outside combination. Yao averaged 18.4 points and a team-high 8.4
boards in 80 games in 2004-05.

McGrady and Yao are the key ingredients to the Rockets’ success. With two All-
Stars on the roster, Houston’s management needs to try and surround the pair
with some quality role players who can be part of a winning formula.

Houston signed free agent forward Stromile Swift and guard Derek Anderson, who
recorded 9.2 points per game in 47 contests for Portland in 2004-05, while
Scott Padgett ended his two-year tenure with the club and inked a deal
with the New Jersey Nets. The Rockets also managed to re-sign veterans Jon
Barry and Dikembe Mutombo.

Swift, who will turn 26 on November 21, will be entering his sixth season in
the league. Originally selected out of Louisiana State by the Vancouver
Grizzlies in the first round (second pick overall) of the 2000 NBA Draft,
Swift averaged 10.1 points and 4.6 rebounds in 60 games for Memphis in
2004-05. The 6-9 Swift gives the Rockets a physical presence down low.

The Rockets acquired point guard Rafer Alston from Toronto for journeyman
Mike James. Alston netted 14.2 points and dished out 6.4 assists for the
Raptors in 2004-05. The 6-2 Alston will be playing for his fourth different
organization and is entering his seventh season in the league.

Jeff Van Gundy is back for his third season as the general of the Rockets, who
have lost to the Lakers and Mavericks in the postseason during his first two
years as head coach. Prior to landing in Houston, Van Gundy led the New York
Knicks to six straight postseason appearances to go along with a berth in the
1998-99 NBA Finals. He will continue to stress defense, but will give McGrady
creative freedom on offense.

Van Gundy must figure out a way to get the Rockets to advance past the first
round of the playoffs. He is 4-8 in the postseason as the Rockets’ general.

BACKCOURT

Veterans Anderson, Bob Sura, David Wesley and Alston give Van Gundy a solid
three-guard rotation. Anderson, who can also play small forward, Sura and
Wesley are all capable of playing both guard spots, while Alston, who can be
difficult to deal with, will earn his minutes at the point.

Sura averaged 10.3 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.2 assists in 61 games for the
Rockets in 2004-05, while Wesley, who was acquired from the Hornets during
last season, registered 10.9 points and shot 38.3 percent from three-point
range in 54 contests for the Rockets.

Barry is another solid guard for the Rockets. He can knock down the long-
range jumper and adds enthusiasm to the club. Rookie Luther Head, who was
selected out of Illinois with the 24th overall pick in the first round, will
also compete for playing time.

Houston is in good shape in the backcourt. The Rockets don’t have any big
names, but they have veterans who can contribute and will be able to fill
important roles.

FRONTCOURT

Yao and McGrady will be expected to carry the Rockets once again. The addition
of Swift should help both All-Stars. Houston lacked an intimidating player
down low, and it hopes Swift can fill that void.

McGrady’s unbelievable athleticism and his ability to create help Yao get
better looks at the hoop. Even though the star center is 7-6, he does have the
tendency to shy away from the physical play. McGrady draws double and
sometimes triple teams, allowing the paint and post to open up for his Yao.

The aging Mutombo will backup Yao and should be able to handle the 10-15
minutes that will be expected of him, while veteran Juwan Howard did not play
in last year’s playoffs because of a knee injury can help out on the boards
and with scoring. Howard averaged 9.6 points and 5.7 boards in 61 contests in
the regular season.

Anderson will get some minutes at small forward behind McGrady. Veteran Ryan
Bowen adds some depth up front and will be able to fill in when needed.

OUTLOOK

The tandem of McGrady and Yao looks great on paper, but they have to win in
the playoffs if they want to earn some real respect. Van Gundy is an excellent
coach and Houston management has given him a solid nucleus to work with. This
is a big year for the Rockets, who will win 50 games and will be No. 4 or No.
5 seed in the West.

However, if the Rockets don’t advance past the first round in the 2006
playoffs Van Gundy may be looking for work next offseason.

HOU