Look, I don't really like the NBA. Haven't really watched it intently since Jordan switched to number 45, because for about the last decade it's resembled the WWF more so than actual basketball. Paul Pierce might as well be Rowdy Roddy Piper, Tim Duncan is your Hulk Hogan, and Kobe Bryant is Elizabeth to Shaq's Macho Man Randy Savage. At points during the last 10 or so years, I fully expected Joey Crawford to blast Tim Duncan over the head with a folding chair, strip off his stripes, and reveal a Laker jersey as Duncan laid face down in a pool of fake blood.
Well a little thing happened after Tracy McGrady pulled an ovary. NBA basketball became watchable again. My apologies for mixing sports metaphors, but this version of the Rockets provides a Dan Gable answer to the Vince McMahon circus. Guys like Scola, Artest, and especially Battier will guard you. Seriously, they play defense.
Making the game even more palatable for me is the fact that the Rocket's lone superstar is soft spoken and can't get a call in this primadonna league. You ignore the fact that this will ultimately lead to a Chinese backlash, drastic devaluation of the dollar, and hyper-inflation at your own peril. Can we get Earl Strom to run the Federal Reserve? Hell, Joe Prsysbilla gets more calls than Yao.
Seriously though, throw in a couple of unsung guards in Lowery and Brooks, and an uber-athletic castoff Von Wafer, and this is a fun team to watch for the discerning fan of basketball. Did I mention that Rick Adelman is a better coach than Phil Jackson? Notice I didn't say more successful or fortunate? On to the game and some random thoughts.
I thought the Rockets played a perfect first half of basketball and still almost spit the bit Houston style by playing tentative on the offensive end late in the second quarter. Rick/Scooter/John/Brent Barry needs to shoot the f'n ball and quit trying to be a playmaker. He passed up two open looks and a turned the ball over, artificially starting a Laker run to close the gap right before the half.
Ditto for Aaron Brooks, although Adelman remedied that shit real quick after the young guard passed up an open 3 that led to a shot clock violation. After getting his ass ripped, Brooks went from a tentative Oregon Duck to Tiny Archibald in a blink of an eye. He made Derek Fisher look like Carrie Fisher with a Jabba the Hut neck chain.
Ball-you-intergalactic criminal overlord.
Speaking of young guards, the Lakers have zero answer for Kyle Lowery and Aaron Brooks. Jordan Farmar and Derek Fisher cannot stay in front of these two, and that's a hell of a thing when a club has to devote help to Yao Ming.
And can we stop using the "soft" descriptor when talking about Yao Ming? His return to the ballgame after the knee injury wasn't exactly on par with Willis Reed, but it should net him some credibility with fans and teammates. He took 14 fewer shots than Kobe and would have finished with more points without any garbage time.
Ron Artest gives the Rockets a toughness they lacked when this was McGrady's team. That toughness has seemed to rub off nicely on all of the younger guys as well as Yao Ming in particular. Artests big first half set the tone for the Rockets and allowed them to settle in.
Shane Battier is the unsung player of the game (and be sure to read Scipio on Lewis On Battier, if you have not already). There's not a player in the League that annoys Kobe Bryant more than the former Duke star. Look no further than Bryant's cheap shot and frustration foul after Battier knocked the ball loose and got a steal in the first half. After the way Bryant violently jumped on Shane, I fully expect the Laker guard to buy his soon to be ex-wife a $3 million dollar diamond apology ring after Battier presses charges.
Kobe's Shaq-less ring?
Also, kudos to Hayes and Landry for bringing energy and physicality off the bench. That's the kind of answer this team needs when someone lays your boy's eyebrow open.
Anyone else want to figuratively shank Sasha Vujacic? If the name Sasha wasn't annoying enough, this guy has to take his faggotry to Bill Laimbeer levels. He's in Von Wafer's head, and that's not surprising.
I know it's only game one, but this series is going to be tough for the Lakers. The Rockets are a matchup nightmare for LA, mainly because, well, they play defense.