This was a first for me. As I was standing in line at New York's John F. Kennedy Airport preparing to board a flight to Houston to begin reporting a feature on the Rockets for
There was no reason to go to Houston anymore. The Rockets' season, for all intents and purposes, is effectively over.
"A season with surging promise seems lost," opined the
There were great expectations when offensive guru
Miraculously, the Rockets were able to pull their team together. Rookie
Now they are not.
The Rockets have little shot of making the postseason without Yao. Why? Well for starters Yao was the lynchpin of the Rockets defense. Never the most athletic player on the floor, Yao has an uncanny feel for defending in Houston's system. Whether he is trapping on the perimeter or sagging back as Houston's last line of defense, the Rockets have no suitable replacement, unless you think 67-year-old
On offense, Yao is arguably one of the most dominant low-post scorers in the league (he is averaging 22.8 points and 10.8 rebounds this season) and was the primary reason Houston had registered seven games where it scored 50 or more points in the paint. The Rockets have no alternatives there either; McGrady is solid in the low post but as one scout told me Tuesday night, "you can't count on Tracy McGrady to carry your team." Scola is a perimeter player and Mutombo is, well, an offensive liability.
Houston's competition won't be feeling sorry for them. The cheers could be heard from Denver to Oakland, as the Nuggets and Warriors stand to benefit the most from Houston's misfortune. While the Rockets have a favorable schedule in the second half (nine games against sub-.500 teams), a three- or four-game skid could catapult them into the draft lottery.
It's probably going to happen. The West is too good and the margin of error is too slim. It's time to start thinking about next year.