Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Yao Line 02.17.09: Refs Still Terrible

20 pts | 9-15 FGs | 12 rebs | 3 asts | 2 blks

Get used to that line-up, that's the one that will get Houston into the playoffs and, perhaps ironically, out of the first round of the playoffs. With McGrady's announcement of an impending season-ending microfracture surgery on the faulty knee that has bugged him all season, the drama is finally over. Will he or won't he play has finally been decided once and for all and everyone will be better for it.

Which isn't to say the Rockets are a better team without him. McGrady gave the Rockets the potential to go deep into the playoffs with his talent alone combined with this personnel. But without him, the Rockets may actually be better off in the traditional concept of team. The ceiling might be lower but this Rockets team should still not only make the playoffs but get out of the first round. Especially if they keep playing as they did with the Nets in town beating NJ 114-88.

For the most part, the Rockets have looked more cohesive on offense without T-Mac in the lineup this season. When Rafer Alston is the sole primary ball-handler, and because he is not a scorer near McGrady's class even with a bum knee, Houston is more likely to let the offense set up and run its course. And when Alston plays with the kind of energy and verve he did last night, the Rockets are as solid at the point as any team. Von Wafer was again impressive, playing like a man possessed, trying to solidify his place in the rotation. The Rockets have needed someone as singularly committed to scoring efficiently for a long time. And Artest was again very solid, proving you can't guard him one-on-one and never without an ice bath after the game. Still, I wish he wasn't so quick to pull the 3-pt trigger--it would work wonders for his shooting percentage.

But all of this, of course, comes down to Yao and how he handles the pressure of the team now being on his shoulders going into the stretch run. There's nothing that would suggest he won't handle it well. And maybe he won't have to handle it alone. Rafer Alston has already stepped up with no qualms about his desire to lead the team. A move that is indicative of what a team is with Yao at the helm. A team in the truest sense of the word. Yao is a star in stature but not in personality. The Rockets are a team that can only thrive with the support of every key player.

Think of Adelman's offense--and now with a team that looks more determined to run it--Yao is the featured option but not necessarily the center-piece. That's what can be great about this offense when its run correctly. Yao is the featured but not everything has to run through him but when it does it is as much for him to be a playmaker as a scorer. There are several options available and none bigger than Artest. Everyone has to make plays and at least with the Nets in town, pretty much everyone did.

Oh and the refs still have no clue how to officiate Yao. And here, I used to think Shaq was being a crybaby. It even seems to be contagious to the rest of the Rockets. Lucky the Nets were so bad it didn't matter.