When Yao Ming went down last week with a season-ending
stress fracture in his left foot, it was looking like the Houston Rockets
playoff hopes were shattered. The injury was a tough break for the Rockets, who
were playing their best basketball of the season and had won 13 straight games
before Yao went down.
At this point of the season especially in the extremely
competitive Western Conference – an injury to a key player could make the
difference from a playoff team and a lottery team.
But so far, Houston has not waved the white flag, as they
have won three straight since Yaos been out, and are now riding a 15-game
With roughly 25 games left in the season, the Rockets are
currently the sixth seed in the West with a record of 38-20 [as of Sunday]. But
that could easily change with the eighth seeded Warriors just two games behind
Houston, and the ninth-ranked Denver Nuggets just three games behind them.
This begs the question: Can the Yao-less Rockets stay in the playoff race?
First of all, how do you replace Yao Ming? Or better yet how
do you replace 7-7? In a Conference where size means everything [Duncan, Shaq,
Amare, Bynum, Chandler],the
Rockets are going have a tough time replacing someone who could match up with those
players. For the season, Yao
was giving them 22 points, 10.8 rebounds and 2.02 blocks.
It is tough to see Yao
go down, mainly because with him in the lineup, they could have made some noise
in the playoffs and in my opinion would have at least got out of the first round.
It also sucks because this injury might cost Yaos opportunity to play in the Olympics
which will be played in his home country of China. Yao is by far the face of Chinese sports and
the Olympic games.
If the Rockets are going to make the playoffs, everybody on
that team is going to step up. It all starts with Tracy McGrady. T-Macs
leadership has been questioned in the past mainly for his inability to lead a
team past the first round of the playoffs.
With Yao down, this is the perfect chance for him to prove
his leadership qualities. He is going to have to score more, but more
importantly, he is going to have to get the best out of his teammates
especially his big men like Luis Scola, Dikembe Mutombo, Chuck Hayes and Carl
Although none of those bigs can realistically fill Yaos shoes, there is
enough talent there to keep Houstons
postseason dreams alive. Dikembe Mutombo is one of the best defensive centers
in NBA history. But he is also 41-years-old, so his contributions are limited
in this stage of his career. But in the three games, Yao has been absent, Dikembe has contributed
8 boards and an impressive 3.7 blocks per game.
Landry and Hayes can definitely provide good bench minutes,
but no doubt the Rockets playoff hopes may ride on their 27-year-old rookie
Scola. Although he is a rookie, he has had plenty of basketball experience.
Prior to Houston,
the Argentinian forward has been a star for a Spanish professional team as well
as the Argentina National Team.
He is a crafty and smart player who can give the Rockets
some toughness and stats. He has the ability to be a double-double guy [hes
done it five times this season] and has been huge in the three wins since the
injury. On Sundays win over Denver,
Scola had 18 points and 14 boards.
Right now, I would say that the Rockets will miss the
playoffs, just due to the fact that the West is so stacked. With Denver, G-State and Portland right on their
tail, it will be hard for Houston
to hold on to their spot without their franchise player.