The Nuggets play their second and last game of the season in Houston tonight. The previous game in Houston saw the Rockets, in the midst of a six game losing streak, smoke Denver out of the building 109-81.
The big difference is tonight the Rockets will not have Yao Ming who is out for the season with a stress fracture in his foot. Many people wrote off the Rockets playoff hopes, including me, upon hearing of Yao’s injury. Houston has responded to a major injury in a way that a team like the Nuggets would not understand. Instead of cranking up the excuse machine they cranked up the defense and started blowing teams out.
Their first game without the Chinese Giant they held Washington to 23 first half points and won the game 94-69. The second game without Yao they pounded Memphis 116-95 in a game where Memphis only scored 41 first half points.
Obviously, Washington and Memphis are not nearly as talented as Denver, but the Rockets are clearly embracing the challenge of playing the rest of the season without Yao.
From the start of the season I have been dreading the month of March, but Denver looks like they may have received a couple of breaks. The first one being Yao’s injury. The second is the Shaq trade that has apparently wiped out the Suns mojo. The Nuggets need to take advantage of these developments as they play both of those teams in their next two games. A 2-0 start to March just might catapult the Nuggets to an impressive month. Of course the opposite is just as likely as they might mail in the next week of games because they would start feeling a little too good about themselves.
Looking at the matchups with Houston Anthony Carter is going to have to guard Tracy McGrady who has been playing very well over the previous week or two. That means AI will have to guard Rafer Alston who has been shooting well from three point range and is a capable scorer. Neither matchup should give Nugget fans a very good feeling.
Shane Battier should not give Melo too much trouble as a defender, but he sure seems to shoot well whenever he plays against Denver.
Marcus Camby will have to keep Dikembe Mutumbo off the boards and Kenyon will have his hands full with Luis Scola who averaged 11.7 points on 63% shooting in February. The Nuggets bigs will have to match the effort of guys like Chuck Hayes and rookie Karl Landry when they enter the game.
I have no idea what will happen tonight. I could see anything from a Rockets blowout to a Nuggets blowout happening and not be the least bit surprised. Such is the plight of Nuggets fans with this team.
It would appear the key to the game would be getting off to a quick start. As I noted above, Houston has held Washington and Memphis to low scoring first halves. Houston is a top five defensive team in the league by almost any statistical measure you choose to look at. If the Nuggets fall behind Houston is a very difficult team to come back on because of their commitment to defense.
Fasten your seatbelts Nugget fans, March is going to be a long rough ride.