Winners of eight out of their last 10 games, the Houston Rockets have done an admirable job climbing back to .500 after a horrible start. Unfortunately, they haven't beaten anybody of substance. Let's keep it that way.
Like the Lakers of Los Angeles, the Rockets of Houston do just fine against crappy teams but can't beat anyone with a plus-.500 record. Against teams with plus-.500 records, the Rockets record this season is an unimpressive 3-10. And they've beaten just one plus-.500 team on the road, when they took down the New York Knicks on November 14th. And frankly, anyone can beat the Knicks with the way they play.
So while many Nuggets fans are understandably concerned about the Rockets possibly creeping up in the rear view playoff mirror, don't count me among those fretting. As a Rick Adelman coached team, you know the Rockets will always play fundamentally well. But in the NBA, it always comes down to the stars and the Rockets are simply a collection of very good role players without a star to guide them.
That star, of course, was Yao Ming. But sadly (and it is sad because Yao is a great guy and great ambassador for the NBA worldwide), Yao is again done for the season due to injury and now rumors abound that the Rockets are looking to trade their best big man since Hakeem Olajuwon wore a Rockets jersey.
The Rockets loss is the Nuggets gain, however, because we don't like mixing it up against those big guys. (Although the Nuggets did grab a season-high 58 rebounds against a very good rebounding Kings team on Saturday night...that's 17 more than the Nuggets grab on average if you're scoring at home.) For years, the Nuggets struggled when Yao was anchoring the center spot for Houston. Now, the Nuggets front court only has to contend with the inexperienced Jordan Hill, the exceptionally good but not exceptionally tall Luis Scola and the aging Brad Miller for the Rockets as the days of Yao fade more and more into the past.
Moreover, rather than worry about the Rockets possibly sneaking up behind our Nuggets, our Nuggets should be the ones sneaking up on the teams ahead of them in the Western Conference. Quietly, the Nuggets find themselves just three games out of having home court advantage in the playoffs again. And it's taking care of teams like the Rockets at Pepsi Center that could vault the Nuggets into the four-spot.
SCOUTING THE ROCKETS...
-Luis Scola: The NBA media is in a huge hurry (rightfully) to get Blake Griffin and Kevin Love into their first All-Star Games. But Scola should probably be in the All-Star conversation at power forward, too. Averaging a career high in points (19.9 ppg), Scola is a big reason why the Rockets were able to overcome a 3-10 start and find themselves playing .500 ball today.
-Kevin Martin: The other K-Mart has gotten his scoring mojo back. In his last 15 games, he has scored under 20 points just twice and had a 40-point outing during that span.
-Shane Battier: The well-rounded Battier continues to deliver the goods on a nightly basis for the Rockets and will make Carmelo Anthony work extra hard for his points on Monday night.
-Terrence Williams: Thankfully this guy didn't become a Nugget as was rumored in a possible Nets/Nuggets trade. The Rockets traded for Williams first, and he has had nine straight DNP-CD's.
-Jared Jeffries: The Rockets have the NBA's seventh-highest payroll because guys like Jeffries make way too much money. For the nearly $7 million the Rockets will pay Jeffries this season, Jeffries can't get a sniff of playing time and has appeared in just nine games all season.
Yao Ming, Andrew Bynum, Greg Oden and countless other big men before them should be cautionary tales to NBA teams desperate to land a "true center". All too often, big guys come with big injuries. NBA fans should note that Chauncey Billups' Pistons and Paul Pierce's Celtics won NBA Championships without true centers, but instead had tough role players who played bigger than their listed height.
Opposition's Take: The Dream Shake