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Clippers - Rockets Preview

The Rockets can't beat anyone without Tracy McGrady.

Except the Clippers... and Spurs, strangely.

TMac and his balky back made it through the first 20 games of the season, and the Rockets started 14-6.  He has missed the last 6, and the Rockets are 2-4 in that span, the lone victories being over the Clippers in Staples less than a week ago, and the Spurs last night.  This matches a pattern from a year ago for the Rockets, when the team defied logic by somehow losing every game McGrady missed; in addition, the Houston housing market cratered, and the Texans drafted Mario Williams instead of Vince Young, all because of McGrady's back spasms.  (I'm not clear on how TMac's back affected the NFL Draft 2 weeks after the Rockets' season ended, but that's how bad things were when he was hurt.)  Of course, he may be ready to play again just in time for the Clippers, but Jeff Van Gundy would be wise to rest him again, since they shouldn't need him.

Yao has killed the Clippers for several seasons now, and last game was no exception.  He went for 32, 10 and 5, on 12 for 18 shooting.  The only good news was that Chris Kaman at least held his own against Yao, with 20 and 11, which is a decided improvement for Chris in this particular head-to-head.  

If the Clippers again decide to double-team, they'll have to do a much better job of rotating to the Rockets shooters, who torched them for 8 for 17 on threes in Staples.  Moreover, Shaun Livingston needs to make it a personal challenge to keep Rafer Alston out of the lane.  Stopping Yao is a very difficult defensive assignment - stopping Rafer Aston is not on the same level.  

Two of the Clippers top eight players were unavailable for the first Houston game, as Sam Cassell rested his sore foot, and Tim Thomas played only 4 minutes before leaving with a bruised elbow.  Plenty of guys are still hurting, but everyone should be able to play.

If McGrady sits out this game, if Kaman can once again hold his own, if the Clippers can cool off the Rockets' three point shooters, and if Brand can have a big game on offense against Chuck Hayes, the Clippers can actually win this game.  If any of the above goes the other way, it will be the Clippers 7th loss in a row.