Houston’s Response…What Problem?
If you are anything like me you more or less wrote Houston off when Yao Ming went down simply because the Western Conference is so strong. They were in the midst of a 12 game winning streak when the sun set on the big man’s season. However, nobody told the Rockets that the sun was supposed to set on their season too. Either that or they just refused to listen. All they’ve done in the 8 games since losing their franchise center was rip off 8 more victories. They haven’t merely squeaked by teams either. Last night’s game was the only one without Yao that they didn’t win by 10 or more points. Instead they won by 8. In fact, they have won their last 12 games by 8 or more. They face Charlotte on Friday looking to break the tie with the 1970-71 Milwaukee Bucks for sole possession of the second longest streak behind the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers. Want to know who was on those other two teams? The Bucks had Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and Oscar Robertson. The Lakers had Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West. So who is running the show for Houston? Tracy McGrady and a bunch of role players. McGrady has led the Lakers in scoring the past seven games and ten of the last 11 during this streak. They are getting production from guys like Shane Battier, Rafer Alston, Luis Scola, Carl Landry, Bobby Jackson, Chuck Hayes, Luther Head, and Dikembe Mutumbo. Not exactly your murders’ row of hoopsters. However, they have done what is needed to just keep winning.
So who’s the biggest loser in this streak? It has to be the Denver Nuggets, who remain the 9th seed despite a 38-26 record (.594). Despite winning nearly 60% of their games they are still 2.5 games out of the 8th seed behind Golden State. Denver would have the 4th best record if they were in the East. Talk about a kick in the seeds.
Houston is only a game behind the Lakers for the best record in the West. They are going to need a cushion because the road they have coming up could get bumpy. After Charlotte they face the Lakers, Boston, New Orleans, Golden State, and Phoenix. There’s your murders’ row. Golden State’s 0.635 winning percentage is the lowest of the group.
To get back to McGrady for a second, not only is his team challenging Kobe’s for the top seed in the West, but he has entered the MVP race as well. There are four legitimate MVP choices. Kobe, LeBron, Chris Paul, and now T-Mac. I tend to look at the season as a whole, rather than what someone did over a quarter of the season, so T-Mac is still fourth in my opinion in MVP voting. However, he wasn’t even in the discussion before the streak.
Losing Yao may still bite Houston in their nether regions come playoff time, but at the present time you can put the “Houston, we have a problem” talk to bed.