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|Written by Admin|
|Friday, 11 January 2008 19:54|
The Houston Rockets have been winning without Tracy McGrady, and lately they've occasionally even looked better without him. And the more the Rockets prove they can win without their injured All-Star guard, the more people will keep saying it might not be a bad idea to break up his pairing with Yao Ming.
The Rockets aren't going that far. But point guard Rafer Alston says he's heard the talk, and understands why some feel that way.
``It's a Catch-22. Right now the ball's hopping, the ball's touching a lot of guys,'' Alston said. ``We're getting out, we're running, when we don't have it we know ... we can just call a play for Yao. But on the flip side of it, if you do give the ball to Tracy and just watch, it's not like you're watching just an average player. You're actually watching a star. And that's how he plays.
``He lines his guy up and goes into his move and then sometimes he'll go on the low blocks and work on his game down there. So we'll tell him we want to get up and keep moving, I think that's how Rick Adelman's style is. We want to move the ball, move our bodies and I think down the stretch we've always come to him and just give it to him and tell him to take us home.''
Alston's play is among the reasons the Rockets have experienced no drop-off without McGrady, their leading scorer with 22.8 points per game. Alston scored 20 points in a 101-92 victory over New York on Wednesday, when the Rockets improved to 6-2 since McGrady went down with a left knee injury.
That gave Alston three 20-point games this season - all in the last eight games - and improved his average to 17.1 points in that span.
The idea that Houston could be better without McGrady would once have seemed preposterous. The Rockets had never won more than two in a row without him since he joined the team in 2004, and before their victory at Memphis on Dec. 28 they had dropped eight in a row without T-Mac since beating Sacramento on Dec. 22, 2006.
Adelman chuckled when asked about being better without McGrady, whose name has begun to pop up in trade speculation, then stressed that he would be needed down the road if Houston was to meet its lofty preseason expectations.
``I think when you have one of the best big guys in the league who's a tough cover for anybody, and you have one of the best perimeter people, that's a pretty good start,'' the Rockets coach said. ``So I don't believe that. We just have to get as a team to play better. Those guys have proven they can carry a team, but ... getting to the playoffs in the West is tough enough. But when you do get there, you have to have other people ready to play, not just those two guys.''
The Rockets hoped McGrady would return during their five-game homestand that began Friday against Minnesota. And if he did, Alston said it was up to the team's role players to keep playing just as well with McGrady as they've done without him.
``I've learned just watching basketball, when you have two players of that caliber, superstar players, it's up to the rest of us to learn how to play off those guys,'' Alston said. ``Right now we're figuring that out, how to play off (Yao) while Tracy's out. Now when Tracy comes back, we've got to keep our rhythm, got to keep the same tempo. Guys got to continue to be aggressive.''
DRIVING FOR GLORY: Kevin Garnett's drive for some NBA hardware could be quite a ride for his favorite charities.
The Boston Celtics star is a leading candidate for the MVP and Defensive Player of the Year awards as the season nears the midpoint. No player has won both honors in the same season since Houston's Hakeem Olajuwon in 1993-94.
``He has a great chance. He won't win the sixth man award,'' said Hall of Famer and announcer Bill Walton. ``He's got a great chance for the big one, the MVP, he's got a great chance for the Defensive Player of the Year. He would be my leading candidate at this point for both of those awards.''
The NBA announced a multiyear partnership this week with Kia Motors, which will present those two awards plus the sixth man and most improved trophies. Kia will donate a 2009 Borrego SUV to each winner's charity of choice.
The loquacious Walton mentioned at least seven other players - LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Brandon Roy, Chris Paul, Yao Ming, Deron Williams and Dwight Howard - while discussing the MVP award, which he won in 1977-78.
But the '85-86 winner for top sixth man could come up with only one name, San Antonio's Manu Ginobili, as his pick for that award.
``He is the clear front-runner and it's really his to lose,'' Walton said.
The last player to win two awards in the same season was Darrell Armstrong, the top sixth man and most improved player in 1999 for Orlando. Garnett has a chance this season thanks to the effect he's had on Boston's turnaround.
The MVP of the 2003-04 season has anchored a squad that limited teams to league-lows of 87.5 points and 41.7 percent shooting during its 29-4 start.
``It takes defense to do that and Kevin Garnett seems to be at the center of that,'' said former Utah center Mark Eaton, a two-time Defensive Player of the Year.
SHOW YOUR STUFF: The NBA was the last place Chuck Hayes thought he would be after his most recent D-League game.
That was two years ago, and the Rockets forward hasn't had to worry about the minor leagues since.
Players looking to make the same leap Hayes did have their chance to get noticed next week at the fourth annual D-League Showcase, being held Monday-Thursday in Boise, Idaho.
That was Hayes' goal in 2006 while playing for the Albuquerque Thunderbirds. He just didn't think things had worked out as he planned, especially after a four-point performance against Austin in the showcase.
``We had two games, a back-to-back. First game, I played well, played really well,'' Hayes said. ``Second game I played terrible. Then the next day the Rockets called me up.
``And after the second game I was like, 'Oh man, I'm never going to get my call-up.' I was discouraged. I was like, 'Man, I had my opportunity and I blew it the second game.' But the next day we were traveling and my layover in Chicago, (Rockets trainer) Keith Jones called me up and told me to catch a flight to Houston and I've been here ever since.''
All 14 D-League teams will play two games in the event, with every game being televised by NBA TV. The NBA expects scouts or other personnel from nearly all of its teams to be at Qwest Arena.
``They love the showcase, they love the opportunity for players to be seen by their scouts,'' NBA commissioner David Stern said. ``The opportunity to have that kind of exposure causes a real high number of players to stay home in the D-League so they can be seen. And that's causing our teams to evaluate their investments in the D-League in a positive way.''
Eleven players have been called up to the NBA this season, and somebody else can earn a shot with some strong play next week. Just ask Hayes, who has started every game this season for the Rockets.
``Just do what do well,'' he said. ``Play to your strengths, there's a role for you. There's a spot here for you.''
GETTING THEIR MAN: Well before the NBA draft, the Detroit Pistons knew their man. And they thought some others might have figured it out, too.
But Rodney Stuckey was still available midway through the first round, and the Pistons jumped at the chance to add the high-scoring guard to their All-Star backcourt.
``That's probably the worst kept secret, that that was the guy we wanted in the draft,'' Pistons coach Flip Saunders said. ``We thought maybe somebody else might go and grab him, and we were lucky that they didn't. I think there will be some people that wish they had.''
The numbers don't show that yet. Slowed by injuries, the 6-foot-5 guard averaged only 6.0 points in his first 10 NBA games, well off the 24.4 per game he scored in two years at Eastern Washington. The Pistons grabbed him with the pick they acquired from Orlando when they traded Darko Milicic, whom they took at No. 2 in 2003 ahead of Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade.
``He's more advanced defensively right now than offensively. He's better on offense, but defensively he's getting two steals a game in 20 minutes,'' Saunders said. ``And he's got great, great instincts for the ball. He's a really good offensive rebounder for a guard. Like I said, it's going to be a work in progress for him, but he's doing a great job by now.''
Stuckey filled Detroit's desire to get some athleticism in the backcourt to spell the veteran duo of Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton. And though he wasn't seen much in college, Celtics coach Doc Rivers was among those who was well aware of Stuckey's abilities before the draft.
``He's trying to score,'' Rivers said. ``He's an aggressive point guard.''
AP Sports Writer Larry Lage in Detroit contributed to this report.