| Aaron Brooks will push the pace, hoping for easy hoops.|
|50.2 Percentage of a possible 410 games that either Tracy McGrady or Yao Ming has missed since becoming teammates in 2004-05. McGrady has missed 113, Yao 93; they were out 16 times together.|
|Record: 53-29 (second in Southwest) |
Points scored: 98.4 (17th in NBA)
Points allowed: 94.4 (seventh in NBA)
This article appears in the October 26, 2009 issue of Sports Illustrated
NBA custom dictates that a team's marquee player be the last one called onto the court during pregame introductions. It's an honor bestowed on All-Stars, on scoring leaders -- and almost never on defensive-minded small forwards who average single digits. Yet there was Shane Battier, trotting out as the final starter announced in the Rockets' preseason opener. "I have to talk to [team executives] about that," says Battier with a laugh. "I haven't been the last guy introduced in nine years."
Renowned for his savvy, the 6' 8" Battier has some perspective on the challenges facing his club. "Everyone thinks we're going to be a punching bag this year," he notes. "We have got to figure out a way to not let that happen." But Battier's last-man status is telling. The defection of Ron Artest to the Lakers and injuries to Tracy McGrady (knee) and Yao Ming (foot) have robbed Houston of 52.4 points and 19.5 rebounds per game. McGrady is expected to miss at least the first month, while Yao is most likely out for the season. In their absence Houston will use an up-tempo attack led by point guard Aaron Brooks. Last season, in Brooks's 35 games as a starter, the Rockets averaged 9.1 fast-break points. "Easy baskets," says Brooks. "That's going to be the key."
But nothing will come easy, especially when Houston is forced to play in the half-court. With Yao out, the Rockets will go with a center-by-committee approach that includes forwards Luis Scola, Chuck Hayes and Carl Landry, as well as David Andersen, a slender 6' 11" rookie from Australia who prefers to play on the perimeter. "We still have to figure out what we have with this group," admits coach Rick Adelman.
What the Rockets do have is an opportunity to develop their young talent. That might allow Houston to contend for a title when it has a full complement next season, when Battier again rightfully can be introduced, as he says, "somewhere in the middle." -- Chris Mannix