As further proof to my naysayers when I argued before the season started that scheduling matters in the NBA, Rockets head coach Rick Adelman (one of the NBA's finest in my opinion) recently lashed out at the NBA for screwing his team with four consecutive back-to-backs. Tonight's game against our Nuggets is the first of those four screw jobs for the Rockets. And therefore, I expect the Nuggets to take advantage of their weery opponent, as we did Monday against a clearly gassed Thunder squad.
That said, the Rockets will have one pair of fresh legs tonight that just so happen to belong to one of their best players, Trevor Ariza. Ariza was suspended for last night's game against the Pistons after throwing a wicked elbow (that didn't connect) at Raptors rookie DeMar DeRozan. Ariza shot a woeful 0-9 in that Sunday loss to the Raptors and had four turnovers, too. All in 26 minutes of playing time.
The Nuggets have struggled against the Rockets in seasons past, with Carmelo Anthony in particular having off nights all three times he faced the Rockets last season. The two teams last two matchups were thrillers, each ending with a two-point Rockets victory, including a 115-113 loss at Houston in which Melo didn't even play due to his hand injury. But those past games have no bearing on what will happen tonight as last season's Rockets were able to give the Nuggets fits by throwing Yao Ming, Ron Artest and Tracy McGrady at us. Artest is a Laker. Yao is broken (perhaps permanently). And while McGrady is technically back, right now he's a shell of his former self having come off another surgery, this time microfracture on his knee that took place after the All-Star break last season.
So how is it that sans Yao, Artest and a healthy McGrady the Rockets are still so dangerous? Because while this team may be devoid of super stars, it doesn't have any Stiffs. McGrady's NBA high $23.2 million contract and no playoff series wins makes him a Stiff target, but he's worked his ass off to get back this season and I suspect has some game left in him. The rest of the Rockets are hard-working, professional guys that deserve everyone in the NBA's respect...
-Rick Adelman: No one has been dealt a tougher hand than Adelman over the years and all this guy has done is preside over the second-longest regular season winning streak in NBA history and guide his Rockets to a hard-fought seven-game series against the Lakers in the second round of the playoffs last season...with no McGrady and Yao out for the final two games. Sitting at 14-10 without a single player who will get a sniff of the All-Star Game, Adelman is a front runner for Coach of the Year.
-Aaron Brooks: Listed at 6'0", Brooks might be 5'10". But this kid is a stud. A no-nonsense, no-excuses point guard, Brooks torched the Lakers last season (then again, so do all speedy point guards) and is having a career year this season with 17.5 ppg and 5.5 apg. Brooks is clutch and should NOT be left open for a three-pointer.
-Shane Battier: Regarded as the smartest player in the NBA, Battier's numbers don't wow you but he's a terrific defender, a great teammate and will make a big three if he's left open.
-Luis Scola: I'm a huge Scola fan this year because I stole him in the back of my fantasy draft and he's nicely stepping into the void left by Yao with 14.5 ppg on 51.7% shooting and 9.5 rpg.
Photo Courtesy of AP Photos: David J. Philip