While it's been missing the last few weeks due to the holidays and personal breaks, we are bringing back our Gameday Q&A. For tonight's game, I talked to Tom Martin of one of the best Houston Rockets blogs on the internet, The Dream Shake. Here are his answers to my questions.
1. The tagline on The Dream Shake is "will trade McGrady for food, shelter." I'm guessing no takers so far, but what's the latest on McGrady? Any chance we'll see him anytime this year?
The whole situation is at a standstill right now. Things should heat up once the trade deadline approaches and GM’s start to tell themselves, “This might be our last chance at significant cap relief in this economy for a long time.” Everything depends on what other teams want to do. The Rockets’ position is concrete: Either McGrady is dealt for a young talent and a bad contract, or he stays and expires with the team. I’m praying that Ed Stefanski finally declares the Iguodala era a failure and sends Andre over to Houston for a cap-saver in McGrady. Then the Rockets go get Chris Bosh in the off season through a sign-and-trade, and boom goes the dynamite.
2. How is life without Yao and McGrady? Are you happy with the current make up of this team. The Rockets now seem to be built on purely overachieving, blue-collar, hard-working players as opposed to any true all stars.
Life without McGrady is tolerable, if not beneficial. As any Rockets fan has said for years, a healthy McGrady is a blessing, while an injured McGrady can be a curse. He’s never been anything but a hindrance and a nuisance when he tries to play hurt. Clearly, he’s not physically ready to become a first option. He disagrees, and thus, the Rockets have decided that he isn’t worth the trouble. Why spend time dealing with a whining T-Mac when you can instead split playing time between capable bench players who actually embrace the role?
Life without Yao, on the other hand, stinks. And to the surprise of many, it’s not the offense that has suffered, but rather the defense. Teams are averaging far more shots made at the rim than in years past, which is a true testament to an underrated element of Yao’s game: help defense. Unlike Marcus Camby or Dikembe Mutombo, Yao doesn’t block a ton of shots. He’s not a gambler, and rarely goes for the block, instead preferring to force a bad shot or force no shot at all. Having The Great Wall in the paint changes the Rockets’ entire game plan defensively, and allows the perimeter defenders to focus more on their individual opponent rather than helping the Chuckwagon man the paint. Chuck’s a great individual post defender, but the team benefits far more when Yao is on the floor. Oh, and he’s a decent option on offense as well, I guess.
A common misconception about the Rockets is that they are only good because of how scrappy they are. That’s only half true. For the better part of the first half of the season, the Rockets played intelligent, yet free-flowing basketball. They shot as much as the Golden State Warriors, but they took efficient, comfortable shots. No fadeaways from the baseline, no Russell Westbrooking from just inside the three point line. They got every last bit out of our ball movement and shot selection. Sadly, over the past five or six games, the cohesion and execution has deteriorated, especially among the starters. What a great time to travel to San Antonio!
3. We are still waiting for something in exchange for Luis Scola. How about you give us Chase Budinger so Matt Bonner can have a ginger buddy of his own. Speaking of Budinger, have you been surprised by his play this season?
The only reason I would trade Budinger would be to put an end to hearing Rockets broadcaster Matt Bullard yell out, “Hey Bud, let’s party!” whenever Chase makes a good play. That might just do it for me.
I can’t say I’ve been too surprised by Chase’s play, for two reasons. I actually expected him to shoot a little better than he has so far, and secondly, his role on the offense caters to his strengths, making his transition to the NBA far easier. It’s simple, really: Chase shoot three, Chase run break, Chase don’t take more than three dribbles. I do think, however, that his defense has been better than expected, which is a big reason why he’s gotten plenty of minutes.
4. Without a true center inside to limit Parker's penetration, what does Aaron Brooks have to do in hopes of keeping Parker from taking over the game?
I really wouldn’t expect Parker to “take over” the game. He’ll probably beat Aaron a couple of times and go around Chuck for a few layups, and then do his thing elsewhere. But Brooks and Lowry are capable defenders, and I expect them both to perform well, especially given the defensive slump that the Rockets have been in lately. Parker will probably get around 18-20 points, which is fine as long as the Spurs’ role players are kept in check.
5. What is your key matchup and your prediction for tonight's game?
I’d say Carl Landry vs. Tim Duncan. Landry obviously doesn’t start, but he’s been solid off of the bench for us all season. Lately, though, teams have been catching on to Landry’s strengths, and his last few games have been underwhelming. It will be interesting to see if Landry attacks Duncan successfully in the fourth quarter, or if the Rockets will be forced to find points elsewhere down the stretch.
With three days of practice to prepare for the Spurs, I think the Rockets will keep it close. Homer prediction: Rockets 94 – Spurs 89. Realistic prediction: Spurs 92 – Rockets 88.
For all of the latest on the Rockets, make sure to visit The Dream Shake. Also, be sure to come back tonight as Jeff Garcia and I will be going live pre-game and postgame. We'll also have a live blog going on throughout the game. Tune in about an hour prior to the game and call in to give us your take.