The Give and Go
By Charlie Zegers and Chris Liss
RotoWire Staff Writers
Subject: Give and Go
Date: March 11, 2008 7:43 AM PDT
As jinxes go, the "Curse of the Zegers" has a ways to go before it catches up to the "Curse of the Bambino" or that of that billy-goat. The Rockets are 6-0 since you accused me of jinxing them in this column. Of course, they're also riding a 19-game winning streak -- the second-longest in NBA history -- and seem to have two more highly-winnable games (at Atlanta, Charlotte) on the schedule before they face a real challenge against the Lakers this Sunday.
This streak would be remarkable even if they hadn't lost their all-NBA center in the middle.
How are they doing this? It seems that they've landed in a "best of both worlds" situation -- they're still executing Jeff Van Gundy-style stifling defense, but they've become comfortable in Rick Adelman's open and flexible offense -- and the two systems seem to complement each other far better than most would have expected.
Adelman also seems to be doing a remarkably good job of pulling the strings -- he got 11 points out of little-used Steve Novak last night, and his decision to start 74-year-old Dikembe Mutombo is looking particularly brilliant. Did you see how ol' Deke goaded Richard Jefferson into a technical last night with his finger-wagging?
And we can't forget our kindred spirit, stat-geek general manager Daryl Morey, who assembled a very deep roster.
Since you're our resident Rockets scientist, I'll defer to you for a full explanation. How far can they carry this momentum? Are they a legit title contender?
Subject: Re: Give and Go
Date: March 11, 2008 1:14 PM PDT
It's really amazing and enjoyable to watch. And while they've played some weak teams since Yao went down - with the exception of the Hornets, but that game was in Houston - it's not a fluke by any means. I've watch a lot of those games, and the team is really executing well and playing good defense.
Last week's Western Conference Player of the Week, Tracy McGrady looks more like the 2003 version, and Rafer Alston has been taking care of the ball and knocking down shots when needed. Yao is the team's best offensive player, and he's a huge presence in the middle, but the team is more mobile now, and Chuck Hayes, Shane Battier, Carl Landry and Luis Scola are very good role players - the type of guys you often see on championship teams. Hayes plays good defense, holding his position in the post against larger players and often stripping the ball from them, and also rebounds. Battier defends, shoots the three and can pass. Landry's a high-energy player who hits most of his shots, and Scola's an offensive talent, able to pass or score, while also providing more energy than your typical skill-heavy, dirty-work-light Euro.
Bobby Jackson gives them more speed an energy off the bench in the backcourt, and Luther Head is a solid designated three-point shooter who can handle the ball a little bit. (Jackson can shoot the three as well). And Mutombo can still block shots and rebound - probably as well or better than Yao even at this point. So that's why they're winning - well, that, and that the team really seems to enjoy playing together.
Can they win a championship? I hope so, but I doubt it.
At some point, the "zone" they're in is going to wear off. People will miss shots from the outside, other teams will figure out how to exploit their lack of size when Mutombo's out, or their lack of offense when he's in. Especially in a seven-game series. The only way they make a serious run, is if McGrady plays at his absolute career peak during the playoffs - in that case, they've got another Kobe/LeBron, and the role players they have might be enough. Otherwise, it's one (or maybe two) and done.
Do you agree? If so, who's the heavy favorite? The Lakers or Spurs? And what about Dallas - I think they're going to sneak up on some teams. Also, Phoenix might be coming out of their adjustment phase with Shaq. And what about Utah - they're not going to be an easy out for anyone.
Subject: Give and Go
Date: March 11, 2008 3:21 PM PDT
The more I watch this season play out, the more I'm inclined to view basketball teams the same way I view offensive lines -- attaching a heavy bonus to squads with continuity.
Continuity doesn't trump talent, mind you... but when talent is more or less equal, continuity can put the team over the top.
With that in mind, as much as it disappoints me to say it, I think we're back where we started the season -- with San Antonio as the heavy favorite. They've made changes, but those changes are on the team's periphery; the Tim Duncan/Tony Parker/Manu Ginobili/Bruce Bowen core should be intact for the playoff run, and the team's more recent additions -- Ime Udoka, Kurt Thomas, the returning Brent Barry -- are role players.
Los Angeles is my second choice. I won't rank them first because the two key frontcourt players we expect to make them so tough in the playoffs -- Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum -- haven't actually shared the court for a single minute yet.
Those two are my one and one(a) selections. After them come New Orleans, Utah and Houston. I can see any one of those teams making a run to the Finals, but I wouldn't pick them over San Antonio or Los Angeles.
Phoenix and Dallas haven't shown me anything to indicate that they're better off after the big trades... but I reserve the right to change my mind over the next couple of weeks. The Suns' win over San Antonio on Sunday -- with Shaq posting 14-and-16 -- was a positive sign, but I'm not sold yet.
The new-look Mavs haven't beaten anybody good since the trade deadline. They have wins over the Grizzlies, T-Wolves, Bulls, Kings, Nets and Knicks -- but lost to the Hornets, Spurs, Lakers, Jazz and Rockets. Color me unimpressed.
The team that could sneak up on people is Golden State. I don't think they'll make the Finals, but I can easily see them replicating last years' first-round win. I don't think any of the top teams want any part of Nellieball in the first round.
Subject: Re: Give and Go
Date: March 11, 2008 11:34 PM PT
I think you underestimate Phoenix and Dallas, and I'd take even money on those two over New Orleans and Houston, for sure. Dallas gave the Lakers a lot of trouble at the Staples Center a week or so ago, and you have to assume the team will get more comfortable the longer Kidd is in the mix. They play defense, have an elite scorer, an elite point guard and an electric scoring swing man. Phoenix, as you point out, beat the Spurs, but then again, you wonder if they didn't get Shaq for that one key matchup, and it won't work as well against other teams. Still, I'd take their experience and trust that they'll be ready come playoff time. The bigger worry for me is that Steve Nash is slowing down. Younger, quicker guards like Chris Paul and Deron Williams torch him routinely.
Article first appeared on 3/11/08