Saturday, March 15, 2008

Saturday's Starting Five

1. The Houston Rockets. They're still streaking across the NBA and are now tied for first place in the Western Conference. They've won 21 games in a row. That is over 1/4 of the NBA season without a loss. This streak is no longer just a feel-good sidebar to the rest of the season. The Rockets are now tied atop the standings in the deepest conference that we've seen in years. They have the second longest winning streak in the history of the National Basketball Association and they have lowered their lead shoulder as they head into tomorrow's collision with a Gasol-less Lakers squad. Their next five games are a murderers row (LA, Boston, Cleveland, Phoenix and Golden State in five days!) and will likely see the streak broken but they are a contender for the #1 seed in the West and for the NBA title for the duration.

2. Tracy McGrady. Yes he scored a lot of points last night. Again. 30, to be precise. But, that's not really a big deal as he's averaged 29.5 during the past week and 25.4 over the past month. The number that you need to know first is 48. McGrady played all 48 minutes in last night's win over Charlotte. He played 41+ against Atlanta two nights before that. And, though he only played 28+ in the blowout over Jersey on Monday, he again played the full 48 (while scoring 41) to lead the Rockets over the Hornets last weekend. The post-Yao-Rockets are McGrady's Rockets. There is no question about it. He is to the Rockets as Kobe is to the Lakers. Except his Pau Gasol is Dikembe Mutumbo. He is to the Rocket as Lebron is to Cavs. He is to the Rockets as Chris Paul is to the Hornets. Does this make him the NBA's Most Valuable Player? I think we all have to stop talking about first-round playoff exits for a minute because at this point McGrady just has to be in the running. On this day he is the league's Most Valuable Player. Right?

3. Chris Paul. Though last night was about the Rockets and college basketball there were to two other HUGE NBA games being played. In the first, Chris Paul led the New Orleans Hornets over the Los Angeles Lakers in the Big Easy. Big men were wilting and limping off the court at a quick clip, but Paul, despite picking up a nick of his own, scored 27 points and dished 17 dimes to go along with a quartet of rebounds and steals, respectively. Down the stretch it was Paul versus Kobe. Both Gasol and West were gone. And, if anything, Kobe had the better supporting cast on the floor but CP3 would not let his team lose. This game should be remembered when casting your MVP ballot. And, though I just touted McGrady's entrance to the race I would still cast my ballot for Paul.

4. The Full Court Press. This is how you know it's March. The difference between the power conference also-rans and the small conference winners can be athleticism and that advantage is best expressed through the full court press. Smaller, weaker teams can't handle it and their glass slippers will be trampled under heavy Nike wearing feet. Likewise, the press can also suffocate young team's without veteran guards and Big Dance experience. That second scenario played out last night in the Quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament, when Boston College's freshman point guard Biko Paris just couldn't handle the pressure of Clemson. The Eagles went from being up 6-0 (before the press started) to be being blown out by halftime. There is one question that will tell you all you need to know about a team come tourney-time. Can they handle the press?

5. Detroit PIstons. They were the victors in that other marquee NBA fixture that I mentioned earlier. They faced the Spurs in Detroit in a matchup that David Stern hopes only occurs two times per year. Of course, these two teams plan on realizing Stern's fears and meeting up in the Finals in June. The Pistons, thanks to Rip Hamilton's flurry of points in the last half minute, were able to squeak this one out. The final score was 84-80. David Stern doesn't feel any better about this pairing.

The Buzzer Beater. Christian Laetner ain't got nothing on Blake Hoffarber. Well, that's not really true, but this Hoffarber kid nailed an incredibly difficult Laetner-esque turnaround jumper from the elbow after recieving a length-of-the-court pass in traffic to lead Minnesota over Indiana. I dare you not to get goose bumps listening to the home-town call of the play.

And, yeah, he's done this before. Incredible. I've never even hit the bullseye playing darts twice in my life*.

Benched. The Weather. If you were at home like me watching college basketball instead of going out with your girlfriend and her friends or going to some party in Brooklyn with some folks you used to work with then you totally saw that the roof got blown off the Georgia Dome during the SEC tournament last night. The Weaher is forcing Kentucky to potentially play two games today.

*That's not true. I'm a solidly mediocre dart player who has hit many a bullseye. I was just trying to be funny.