Tracy McGrady has been shut down. I say, it’s about time! It has been very painful to watch him play injured, if you can even call what he was doing “playing”. The Houston Rockets decided that they would give him two weeks to, “condition” his need back into shape. As I started writing this blog the Rockets also report Ron Artest will be out for 7-10 days. Artest has a bone bruise on his ankle, the ankle he sprained back on November 16. He has tried to play through the pain but the playing may have actually caused the bruise; now the Rockets want him to heal. He will be reevaluated after the ten days. Artest and McGrady are two of the “Big Three”, with Yao Ming being the third of the group. While Yao has played all but one game McGrady and Artest have missed a combined 19 games, McGrady 11; Artest 8. Artest is the Rockets second leading scorer and McGrady third on the list. The “deep” bench the Rockets have will pick up the slack in the stars absence, like they have been doing all season long.
McGrady has taken the brunt of the outrage between the two stars for missing games, and in my opinion, it is justified. Against the Raptors, McGrady gave a wide open dunk on a fast break that was appalling. He has been sluggish on offence not moving out of a 5 foot area, watching his teammates, while waiting for the ball so he could heave up fade away jumpers from a foot inside the 3 point line. One of the hardest things to watch is how McGrady plays his defense, you won’t see it in a box score, you’ll have to watch the game to really know what is going on. I have watched the games; I recorded them so I could watch them over again. McGrady plays lazy defense, often being left in the dust by players’ executing back cuts for wide open dunks and lay-ups. This is not the kind of defense that will help a team win; one weak link and the whole machine will fail. Artest on the other hand would bring the defensive intensity to the team and a toughness that would lack when McGrady would play. Artest would also have trouble on the offensive end by dribbling to much and not moving the ball around. Neither player would cut to the hoop; this was causing too much stalling of the offense. Rick Adlemans offense needs good passing and cuts to the basket. With two injured stars, none of this was happening.
So were do the Rockets stand now? For at least 10 days they will know who is going to play and who is not, there will finally be consistency. Shane Battier is back from injury and will be starting. Von Wafer and Luther Head will also see more minutes. Von Wafer is one player who is really taking advantage of the injuries to his teammates. It is actually quite refreshing to see Wafer out on the court. He has been doing things that no other Rocket will do, he moves without the ball, takes the ball to the rim, and has hit some huge shots. Aaron Brooks seems to have come out of his shooting slump so I expect him to get a few more minutes since Rafer Alston can’t his outside shots to save his life. The bottom line is that Yao Ming must step up and dominate games; he must hit his shots and command double teams. When the double teams come, he must make good passes and repost for better position. If Yao can do these things it should open up shots for his teammates out on the perimeter. The Rockets have a chance now to prove to the league, and them selves that they are a good team without McGrady.
What if the Rockets look good without McGrady, what if they look better when Artest returns? What if McGrady appears to get better and is able to play again? What do the Rockets do? Should he be traded, or do they keep him and keep his minutes around 25-30 minutes a game. I don’t think the Rockets will get too far in the playoffs without him, but he has got to be healthy. These questions may start to be answered in the next week or two. For now the Rockets have decided to shut down two of their stars. For now the Rockets have opted for some consistency in their line up, instead of playing the guessing game. Thank goodness!