Monday, January 21, 2008

Opposing View: 1/21 at Houston

All season long, Sonics Beat will be consulting an expert on the opposing team as part our gameday preview. Damien Pierce, who does a great job of covering the team for, joins us today. In my preview, I touched on the key role played by Houston's draft picks, and that's the subject of's preview. Now, to the questions.

What does Tracy McGrady's return to the lineup mean to the team?
Obviously, it will probably take a few games for McGrady to regain his rhythm and get back in shape after a month-long layoff. But his presence alone certainly gives the Rockets a boost. He automatically commands attention on the perimeter, which should help open things up a little more for Yao Ming. That's really what the Rockets need from him. Over the past few games, the team has been trying to lean on Yao down the stretch, but they've had trouble getting the ball to him. With McGrady back, they'd have another option to finish games.

It doesn't seem like we've heard a lot about the Rockets defense, but statistically it's as good as any D save for Boston's. Does that fit what you're seeing from the defense?
The Rockets developed a reputation as one of the league's best defensive teams under Jeff Van Gundy. But since he's gone, I think the Rockets are getting less credit for their defensive effort. Obviously, the numbers suggest that's not fair. They have statistically remained one of the NBA's better defensive teams and have still won plenty of games this season relying on that. But with that said, I don't think they're perfect on defense. The Rockets have struggled with their transition defense in recent games. On Tuesday, they allowed Philadelphia to score 12 fast-break points in the fourth quarter. That's something that has to improve if the Rockets want to be considered one of the league's best.

Luis Scola has put together some big games but also seen his minutes fluctuate. Does he figure to play a bigger role for the Rockets as he adjusts to the NBA?
Luis Scola has had an up-and-down rookie campaign. He's shown flashes of what he could bring to the Rockets on a nightly basis, but like any rookie, he's spent much of his first season learning the NBA game. Scola is still figuring out how to play off Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming and is learning the rule differences between the NBA and international play. He has struggled at times to avoid foul trouble. But since he's a guy used to playing in offenses with a ton of movement, he's looked great whenever the Rockets are moving the ball. I suspect that he's going to become a greater asset as the season progresses.

What have you seen from Seattle native Aaron Brooks in January as he's seen increased minutes?
The kid can fly. Just ask Tracy McGrady. McGrady said about a week ago that he thought Brooks was the fastest player in the NBA. In any case, the Rockets first-round pick has made the most of his opportunity. He got a chance to play about three weeks ago because Rick Adelman was hoping the point guard would help Houston pick up the tempo and get easier baskets in transition. Brooks has done that and because of that, he's remained in the rotation. He's still got to improve his decision-making and the Rockets expect him to shoot a higher percentage. But his speed alone will keep him in the rotation.

What don't we know but should about the Rockets?
The Rockets have done a much better job of winning without Tracy McGrady. Before this season, the Rockets were 11-42 when they played without T-Mac over the past three seasons. So far, they're 7-7 without the star this season. How have they done it? Better offensive movement. In the past, the Rockets struggled to win without McGrady because so much of the offense depended on McGrady's ability to generate looks for everyone else. But since the team is beginning to get comfortable with Rick Adelman's high-motion scheme, the supporting cast is beginning to find scoring opportunities within the offense rather than through an individual.