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Yao Out For the Season

It definitely sucks to have your franchise big man injured in August and miss 4 or 5 months of the season.  But you know what sucks more?  To have your franchise big man injured in late February while your team is on a 12 game winning streak, the longest in the NBA.

The Clippers knew they were going to stink this season, and they could plan accordingly.  Not that they did, but they could have.  And they still get the consolation of ping pong balls.  They can't screw that up.  (Of course they can, but not until draft day anyway.)

The Rockets on the other hand are sitting at 36-20 with 26 games to play.  Denver only needs to make up 3 games on them to push them out of the playoffs in the hyper-competitive Western Conference.  But those 36 wins all but ensure that they can't fall below 12 or 13 in the league.  So they will miss the playoffs, and not get a significantly better draft pick.

And then there is that window of opportunity.  When they paired Tracy McGrady with Yao 3 seasons ago, they appeared to have a Shaq-Kobe opportunity to play for championships every season.  But injuries have derailed 3 of the last 4 regular seasons, and even when they've made it to the playoffs they have made disappointed first round exits (due in large part to the nasty first round opponents they get after their injury-riddled regular seasons).  McGrady has two more seasons left on his current contract (at over $44M).  Everything finally seemed to be falling into place for the team that had sunk half their payroll into two super-duper-stars.  Now their fourth season together is finished, and they have two chances left.

The Clippers understand the window.  It's closing for them too.  But what happened to Houston today is particularly cruel, even by Clipper standards.

The big winners in this are the Nuggets.  In fact, Yao Ming's stress fracture may have saved George Karl's job.