Never-Ending NBA Preview: Rockets Stuck On Launch Pad


The NBA season is upon us… or at least it would be if this lockout were not going on. Nobody is quite certian when the NBA season will start. But if the collective bargaining agreement gets figured out soon, we will see a flurry of moves to make up for our lost offseason. So, with that in mind, it is time to begin opening the book on the 2011-12 season and to take a look at what the season might have in store — especially when it comes to the Magic. Be sure to look out for more of these team capsules and to check out all the blogs taking part in this year’s NBA Blog Preview (don’t worry, I will be linking to all of them in the next few weeks).

Houston Rockets
Last Year: 43-39
Last Year vs. Magic: L 110-95 in OrlandoL 118-104 in Houston
This Year vs. Magic: Dec. 26 in Orlando
Magic Connection: Courtney Lee (Player, 2008-09)

The Previews: Tom Martin/The Dream Shake

Oh, our good friend the Rockets. I might be the only one left, but I am still a little bitter about the 1995 Finals. Yes, I hold a little bit of a grudge.

But nobody was happy with the news that Yao Ming would be retiring. Yao was a special kind of player. He had incredible agility for someone taller than 7-foot-5. Those players are so rare. Ralph Sampson was supposed to have that ability. Other giants were just that — giants with raw basketball skill.

Yao Ming had that touch and the ability to take advantage of his size in a way no player that tall has ever been able to. He not only could revolutionize the game, but he could also revolutionize the sport. He did revolutionize the sport, opening the doors for the NBA to become the most popular sport in China. The league has seen tremendous growth because of the work Yao Ming did on the court and the work he did off the court. Not to mention what an incredible person and ambassador Yao Ming is. He will do as much in retirement as he did while playing. That I have no doubt.

Ultimately, injuries robbed Yao Ming of everything he could have been as a basketball player. Ever duty bound and feeling the weight of his responsibility as China’s main representative in American culture, Yao Ming played through injuries he never should have been. He wanted so bad to play and fulfill his obligations to his teammates.

Like many of the tallest players in the league’s history, size was ultimately his undoing. People that big are not meant to move with that much agility and that much grace. Much less run the length of the floor 90-or so times per game and compete athletically with players like those in the NBA.

Yao Ming will and has left quite a sizeable hole in the middle of Houston’s lineup.

That hole is what worries Rockets fans moving forward. The team was built around Yao Ming and his presence and without him, the team lacks a key piece of its identity.

The Rockets have worked hard to fill that void in the middle, but nobody is the same as Yao Ming. Brad Miller is a solid player, but won’t make the kind of impact Houston needs to get over the top and into the postseason. Luis Scola is a great player, but is undersized to take on the best centers in the league.

Houston, under general manager and stat guru Daryl Morey, really values the hard-working under-appreciated players like Scola and Chuck Hayes in the post and Kevin Martin on the perimeter. Kyle Lowry took a bunch of steps forward and seems planted as the team’s starting point guard. But much like those Magic teams from the mid-2000s, this is a team on the fringe.

They are good enough to compete for a Playoff spot, but not necessarily good enough to get one.

Houston made some interesting moves before the lockout bringing in Jonny Flynn and Hasheem Thabeet in trades. Both of those players have been very disappointing in their young careers and are looking for a revival in Houston.

But there is still work for Morey to do to get the Rockets off the ground this year and make a return to the postseason.

How the Rockets will Beat the Magic: Orlando is a bad matchup for Houston. Dwight Howard changes everything on the field for most games, but he certainly does that moreso for a team that lacks an inside presence like the Rockets. Thabeet should help a little bit. Howard had some problems going up against him in Memphis the last few years in the limited times they were matched up together.

Really, any hope Houston has of winning any matchup with Orlando is finding a way to neutralize Howard and slow him down, even just a little bit. Orlando has a much more talented roster and as long as the team is scoring consistently, the defense can suffocate Houston. That is what the Magic did last year in a convincing sweep of the Rockets. Cracking that and attacking Dwight Howard to try and get him out of the game will be crucial.

The problem is Houston still lacks someone who can attack the basket and score. Kevin Martin is a fine player and can get to the basket on occasion, but much of his work is done pulling up for mid-range jumpers or spotting up for 3-pointers. In any case, in Houston’s lineup, Martin is really the only player that can attack the basket from the perimeter. Scola and Hayes do a great job attacking the basket from the paint, but they are role players asked to do more than their share.

How the Magic will Beat the Rockets: Dwight Howard.

It is pretty simple really. Howard had a field day in two games against the Rockets last year without Yao Ming in the lineup to slow him down. That gave him almost absolute free reign in the paint. And the Rockets could not figure out how to get around him. Granted, no team has figured that out for the most part. That is why Howard is so good.

So long as Dwight Howard is involved and the defense is focused on trying to slow him down, the Magic’s offense will have a field day. The important thing is executing and keeping the ball moving. Those simple things are all that it should take in this matchup. So long as Dwight Howard is in the game and dominating as he has against the Rockets in the past.

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