Friday, March 14, 2008

Rockets turn 21



About 2 seconds ago, the buzzer sounded on the Rockets' 21st consecutive win, an 89-80 victory over the Bobcats in Houston. And so we have ourselves a wholly unique situation: a team with the second longest winning streak in NBA history, that also has no shot of winning the championship. Hell, they might not even make it out of the first round. Obviously, that's entirely too negative a tone to start off with, but in no way do I mean to be critical. I just wanted to point out how crazy that is.

Anyways, I think the most amazing thing may not be the streak itself, but the streak inside the streak. Houston's last 9 wins have come without Yao - a startling turn of events. I mean, I figured they'd stay afloat - afterall, they went 20-12 without the Big Fella last year - but not lose a step? At all? I think this entire run reinforces two points:

1. Tracy McGrady is a superstar - a dominant scorer and a brilliant passer. He's right up there with LeBron and Duncan and Kobe (yes, Kobe) in terms of the best non-point guard passers in the league - he just knows how to get the ball to his guys in a position to score, and he always keeps them involved in the flow of the game offensively. As Simmons pointed out in the playoffs a couple years ago, when Kobe was playing like Mark Jackson against the Suns, your teammates always play harder and better when they feel like they have a big stake in the outcome of the game. And because McGrady is so unselfish, and his teammates know that he is a team player, when he does decide to take over the game as a scorer, it's all gravy. Mac's found the perfect balance.

2. When you play defense consistent, night-to-night basis, you're always going to be in the game, and you're always going to have a chance to win. Overall, Houston ranks fourth in the league in defensively, allowing about 92 points a night. During the streak, they're holding teams to 84 a game. There's a reason Detroit and San Antonio are always in the mix for a title, and there's a reason Phoenix always falls short (and a reason I worry about my Lakers facing the Spurs in a seven-game series). You gotta play defense. Good defense. That's the strongest foundation you can have.

With that and team play, you can win. It's basketball in it's purest form, the s--t that Smith and Knight demanded, the style of play that gave Larry Brown hard-ons. And the Rockets, in the past 21 games, have mastered it.

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