It’s All In The Game: Ming-less Chatter

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 Yao’s been out, and are now riding a 15-game

winning streak.

 

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 Yao’s 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-Mac’s

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

Landry.  

 

Although none of those bigs can realistically fill Yao’s shoes, there is

enough talent there to keep Houston’s

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 [he’s

done it five times this season] and has been huge in the three wins since the

injury. On Sunday’s 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.  

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