Sunday, April 22, 2012

Houston, we have a problem.

A recent series of unfortunate events is threatening to rob me of a first round matchup that I very much want to see. This is disappointing. Several years ago, in its zeal to milk the post-season for maximum revenue, the NBA eliminated the 5 game format. As a result, witnessing improbable upsets are much less likely. Conversely, witnessing lame T Mobile and All State commercials are much more likely. Let's face it. The 1st round of the playoffs can be boring even for the most diehard fans. The possibility of a first round upset make these initial games interesting or, at the very least, watchable. Despite Houston's current struggles, seeing them take on the Spurs or Thunder in the first round would be very entertaining.

I don't mean to take anything away from the Nuggets or Suns. Both teams have good stories- they have little star power and have fought tooth and nail to be competitive in the brutal Western Conference. The Nuggets had their franchise player defect to a bigger market and became a better team as a result. How often does that happen? Since Melo moved to midtown, the Nuggets play the game unselfishly. They play the game with passion. They have guys known as "the Manimal" and "the Birdman" who are as ferocious as their ThunderCats-like nicknames would suggest. Salt Lake City is the new Gilligan's Island for NBA castaways. Danilo Galinari, Al Harrington, and Ty Lawson have all shined in their new environment. Javale McGee and Rudy Fernandez may follow suit.

It's hard not to root for this Phoenix Suns team. Steve Nash and Grant Hill are still great players when most athletes their age have moved on to commentating or Dancing with the Stars. Some athletes talk about loyalty in press conferences. Two time MVP Steve Nash has never requested a trade despite being constantly lured to play for more competitive teams. Guys like Marcin Gortat, Channing Frye, Josh Childress, and Michael Redd have found a home in Phoenix and the team has chemistry.

Alas, I don't watch professional basketball for the sappy back stories. In fact, when the obligatory feel good segments come on at halftime, I tell the bartender to turn off the sound. I watch professional basketball to see the game I love played at the highest level. Phoenix and Denver have no chance of beating the Spurs or Thunder. Basketball is all about matchups and they don't match up well with either team.

Houston split the season series with both teams because they match up well with them. For several weeks, Goran "Dragon" Dragic was playing as well as any point guard in the league. The kid is no game manager. He is a game changer. Will he outplay Tony Parker or Russell Westbrook in a 7 game series? Maybe not. He will make them play defense every possession and bait them into making the games a 1 on 1 matchup. A scary thought if you're the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Rockets have quality big men. Luis Scola is a great player. He can score in the post. He can knock down the 10 foot jumper. He passes the ball well. The power forwards on either team would have a hard time defending him. The two headed monster of Marcus Camby and Samuel Dalembert can anchor that defense, block shots, and control the paint. Collectively, they are a better center tandem than what San Antonio or OKC have.

The Rockets have solid role players. Chase Budinger, Chandler Parsons, and Courtney Lee are all athletic young players who can knock down shots when left open. The Rockets have a dangerous bench. The one-two punch of Kyle Lowry and Earl Boykins could be a problem for the Spurs or Thunder. Sharpshooter Kevin Martin may be healthy enough to come off the bench once the post-season starts.

The Rockets will need to win their final 3 games to have a shot at making the Playoffs. Let's hope that they do. I would much rather see a competitive series than a compelling storyline.

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