Tracy McGrady: Comebacks and Breakdowns

February 22, 2010

by Jack Maidment

Tracy McGrady scored 26 points in his New York Knicks debut, once again bating people into discussing not only his legacy but also whether or not he is still able to contribute or even star in the NBA.

Was his outstanding performance a false dawn or does it signal the re-emergence of one of the best scorers of the last 10 years?

When boiled down to its absolute essence, the issue really revolves around one thing: does McGrady have the legs?

The two-time former NBA scoring champion has missed more than half of his team’s games in the past two seasons, but receiving the cold shoulder from the Houston Rockets, the franchise who once called McGrady its favourite son, could potentially have saved his career.

Simply, the Rockets had had enough.

Enough of the comebacks and the subsequent breakdowns.

Enough of the ‘next year’ longing.

The deal that sent McGrady to New York allowed the Rockets to gain one of the League’s least appreciated scorers in Kevin Martin.

Young and already potent, Martin is well positioned to be the second or third option on a future Championship team.

He can score the ball and Houston will build around him as one of their main offensive punches.

The Rockets have moved an irritation in McGrady and gained a future star in Martin, who will undoubtedly flourish in a new team where he doesn’t have to fight Tyreke Evans for the ball.

As for McGrady he now finds himself in a market long starved of a legitimate star.

The Knicks have been woeful for so long that any sort of player who used to burn bright now playing in the orange and white will have the support of the whole of New York.

If he fails then, he becomes a role player on an already bad team. His already diminished star power will wane still further but he will be a valuable piece for the Knicks moving forward.

If he succeeds, he catapults himself back into the games’ elite and into a position where teams’ will actively seek his services and throw major money his way.

One team who won’t be doing this is Houston.

They know all about McGrady and his broken body.


NBA Playoffs 2009: Houston Rockets Don’t Do Odds

May 11, 2009


In the world of gambling, odds rule. They determine that which is most important: how much paper you win if you get lucky.

Certain events and games are less risky than others to put your hard earned cash on the line. Poker is a game that, if you know how to play, you have a very good chance of winning.

Similarly, in sports, if you really know your stuff you will have a good success rate, betting on individual games or award winners etc.

It is teams like the Houston Rockets who turn reason-based betting upside down, making the majority of gamblers pull their hair out. Many have been ushered onto the road to insanity by Rick Adelman and co.

Nobody gave them a prayer in game 4 of their Conference Semi Final match up with the LA Lakers.

Despite home court advantage, the Rockets were playing with the knowledge that their All Star Center, Yao Ming, would miss the rest of the post-season.

The hairline fracture in his foot that he suffered during LA’s game 3 victory has confined Yao to the bench and effectively thrown out any chance of Houston progressing to the Conference Finals. Yeah…

There is some strange magical force working deep in Texas which keeps the Rockets winning when the entire world has written them off.

They shouldn’t have gotten past the first round. Teams do not lose All Star players like Tracy McGrady and then actually play better. What sort of warped mindset is that?

It’s kind of like George Bush declaring his candidacy for the Presidency again. And winning.

As if McGrady’s absence wasn’t enough, Yao goes down with an injury and the Lakers must have been rubbing their collective hands with glee.

But game 4 came along and the Rockets won. Minus their two best players. Oh, and they are also without Dikembe Mutombo, there only real back up big man.

Let’s recap. No presence in the paint? Check. No All-Star scorer on the perimeter? Check. Tied series against the best team out West? Check.

If any GMs around the League are watching, this is what you call a team. Look it up. There is not a franchise in the League that could survive the absence of TWO All Star players and still win games of this magnitude.

Imagine the Lakers without Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. Uh, no.

Imagine the Celtics without Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. Uh, no.

How about the Denver Nuggets minus Chauncey Billups and Carmelo Anthony. Definitely not.

Dallas without Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd. Portland with no Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge. Phoenix with no Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire.

The same goes for every other team in the NBA. Except for the Rockets who quite simply defy all logic.

The Boston Celtics might champion their ‘Ubuntu’ team philosophy, but there is truly only one franchise that represents ‘The Team’.

The Houston Rockets.

NBA Playoffs Conference Semi Finals: Lakers Face Houston, Hold The Ace

May 2, 2009


With the utter insanity of the Chicago Bulls – Boston Celtics match up out East it is easy to forget just how good the first round series have been elsewhere. Even the ones with consistent blowouts offered something wildly entertaining.


Man it was ugly, but watching the Denver Nuggets humiliate the New Orleans Hornets was sure fun. Same goes for the Atlanta – Miami series where both teams have shared a powerful commitment to blowing out the other on alternate nights.

Watching Dwayne Wade and Joe Johnson go to work makes the 30 point loss kind of redundant. It’s just good.

So while Derrick Rose and Ben Gordon plot the downfall of Paul Pierce and his Celts, and Miami and Atlanta decide whose turn it is to get blown out in their game 7, the 6 teams who have already secured progress are busily preparing for what promises to be monumental semi final match ups.

Only 4 teams, all out West, know for sure who lies between them and the Conference Finals.

The Los Angeles Lakers are undoubtedly a little more troubled by their second round opponents than they may have been.

Houston’s progress means that LA face a team of hungry veterans with a splash of youthful arrogance thrown in that promises more problems than a Portland team who would have been far more likely to succumb to the flashing lights of Hollywood than Yao and Co.

You can bet all the tea in China that Yao Ming is not just happy with finally getting out of the First Round. Tasting post season success for the first time will have given the man from the Orient the impetus to drive his team even deeper, toward the Finals.

Yao is the major problem for the Lakers. 7 feet 6 is just hard to guard. Andrew Bynum, the Laker big man, was perhaps unwise to call for a match up with Houston so that he can take down Mr Ming.

If Yao discovers a new ‘domination’ level of play that his stature should make possible, the Laker frontcourt will have their work cut out to stop themselves getting steam rolled.

The problems do not stop with Yao. On paper, the Houston Rockets are one of, if not the, best defensive team in the League. With Ron Artest and Shane Battier locking down the LA perimeter players and Luis Scola’s hustle providing the perfect accompaniement to Yao’s length inside, the rockets are tough.

Kobe going at it with Battier promises to be a lot of fun. As does Bynum/Yao and Scola/Gasol. So many key match ups.

As good as the Rockets might be defensively, no other team in the NBA possess the same amount of fire power as the Lake Show. Kobe, Pau, Lamar, ‘Drew, Fisher, Ariza, Shannon Brown, Vujacic, Farmar.

Pick. Your. Poison.

There is no way that the Rockets can outswcore the Lakers, but the fact that giving up leads is sort of what LA does, Houston have a chance. Especially with Aaron Brooks on point.

Of all the men on the floor, Brooks poses the most problems for Phil Jackson. He is a match up nightmare. Too fast. Too dangerous. Too confident?

The speed that he has to burn will cause Derrick Fisher all kinds of trouble. 30 year old ankles are not designed to withstand Texas Tornadoes.

The Lakers may have to sacrifice the steady hand of the Fish Man for the zippier Jordan Farmar. Although his lack of minutes recently hardly prepares him too well for going toe to toe with one of the quickest players in the game.

Defense meets Offense. Grit meets Finesse.

Such a summary would ordinarily point toward a dead lock. A 7 game slog. The Lakers do however have an ace up their collective sleeve.


No Clutch, No Championship: Can Yao Ming Do It All For The Houston Rockets?

April 10, 2009
Mr Big Shot?

Mr Big Shot?

With the playoffs fast approaching, every team headed to the Big Dance is praying that their go-to guy is on form and firing when their team really needs them. And down the stretch there will be moments when these players either come through strong or fall short. Sometimes there will be a mix of both with one game’s hero switching to villain just a few days later.


Some teams are more reliant on these players than others. For example, Dallas will be going no where but fishing unless Dirk replicates the performances he made when the Mavs made the Finals. Similarly, without Dwight Howard, the Magic may as well not turn up to the post season. D-Wade is probably the best example of team over-reliance. 


Other teams are built more around a team effort. Ubuntu. Their go-to guy is not necessarily their greatest scorer, but they act as a catalyst for their team to go to a higher level. Kevin Garnett in Boston, for example, will not be taking the last shot, game 7 of the Finals, but without him, the Celtics are only the shadow of the team they can be.


Of the 16 teams headed to the first round, one is in a fairly unique situation: their go-to guy is injured. Despite an injury to the Houston Rockets’ premier scorer the franchise find themselves 3rd in the West, home court in sight. Injury to Tracy McGrady has forced the Rockets to adapt their collective personality with his major responsibilities filtering down throughout the team.


The saving grace for Houston is Yao Ming. No other team in the League bar the Celtics have more than one truly franchise status player. The Rockets have two. McGrady’s injuries have been a constant in Texas so to be officially without him for the run in has enabled the Rockets to take responsibility for their own destiny rather than having to wonder every night if Tracy will play and do it for them.


Yao Ming has had to become the solitary leader for a changing franchise who have also lost their starting point guard, trading Rafer Alston to the Magic in a money saving move. With the expectations spread firmly upon Yao’s broad shoulders the Rockets have flourished and are well positioned for a deep post season run.


The key? Defence. Yao’s length will always make him a problem for opposing teams on both ends of the floor, but height is nothing without skill and basketball IQ to match. Yao is laden with both, acting as the anchor for the League’s 4th best defence. The center is perfectly complimented by Ron Artest and Shane Battier, two of the games best perimeter defenders. Combined with the gritty determination of Luis Scola, the Rockets are as hard a team to score on as any.


If Yao can maintain his current production, almost 20/10, for the playoffs, the Rockets will certainly have a chance of a deep run. He is the heart of the Rocket’s and is certainly the go-to guy in the absence of McGrady, but crucially he is not alone. Artest is averaging 17 a game and Scola adds 13 as well as 9 rebounds. The Houston bench can also be counted on for consistent production with the likes of Von Wafer, Carl Landry, Brent Barry and Battier all firing.


The only problem for the Rockets is who is their clutch player? The person you give the ball to in a deciding game, final quarter. Every other title contender team has a closer. And without McGrady Houston may lack the decisive blow that teams need to be successful in close games down the stretch.


Kobe, Chauncey, Tony Parker, CP3, Dirk, Brandon Roy, Deron Williams, LeBron, Paul Pierce, Hedo, Joe Johnson, Wade.


As good a player as Yao is, he does not belong on that list.


So, how does Houston achieve success without a Mr Big Shot? Blow every team out before the 4th. That’s the only way.