Unless you've been living under a rock, you should be well aware of the array of struggles the Houston Rockets have faced so far this season.
The most publicized and critical hindrance to their year has been their seemingly non-stop rash of injuries up and down the roster, most notably to Tracy McGrady and Ron Artest, respectively.
Despite all their issues, however, as the season gets set to resume Tuesday, the Rockets find themselves at 32-21, good for fifth place in the Western Conference.
Just before the All-Star break, the Rockets enjoyed a nice run in which they had all of their rotation players healthy, essentially for the first time all season.
Last week, however, it came out that McGrady could potentially miss the rest of the regular season with the injury to his left knee that has been nagging him all year.
There have been various reports concerning the Rockets' lack of cohesiveness in the locker room, etc.
But just last season, the very same team won 22 consecutive games, the second-longest streak for any team in the history of the league.
How quickly they forget how the games were won.
During the streak, the Rockets played a very unselfish brand of basketball, the likes of which has been sorely missed to this point in the '08-'09 campaign.
I would never wish injury upon anyone, especially not somebody that depends on their physical health to maintain a livelihood, but McGrady being out for the season could be the best thing to happen to these Rockets.
When McGrady has been on the floor this season, the team has struggled to score as effectively as when he is out of the lineup.
He's having his worst statistical year in a long time, scoring just 15.6 points per game on miserable 38 percent shooting from the floor.
Although he's clearly been hurt (he's missed 17 games so far this season,) McGrady looks lackadaisical while playing, and doesn't appear to be giving much effort on either end of the floor.
During a recent 10-game stretch without McGrady, the Rockets went 7-3.
During the time he's missed, little-known Von Wafer has been able to step up and fill in quite capably in T-Mac's absence.
In the 11 total games he's started this season, Wafer has averaged 16.7 points per game on 46 percent shooting—numbers superior to McGrady's.
Wafer has the ability to stretch the defense and hit the three (40 percent on the year,) while also being an exquisite slasher and surprisingly good athlete, making him very efficient at finishing around the rim.
While shorter than McGrady at just 6-5, Wafer has been a solid enough defender to help keep himself on the floor.
However, with notoriously great wing defenders in Ron Artest and Shane Battier also on the roster, any issues Wafer has defending perimeter scorers can be easily patched up.
Other than Wafer directly filling in for T-Mac, the Rockets are certainly deep enough to win with Yao Ming and Artest as the primary offensive options.
Second-year power forwards Luis Scola and Carl Landry are both very skilled down low, and hit the glass hard enough to take some pressure off of Yao.
And Chuck Hayes, while his offensive repertoire is severely limited, is quite possibly the most underrated low post defender in the league (see linked video for evidence.)
Yao Ming doesn't get the credit he deserves, but he is one of the hardest-working players in the league, and it shows.
He's supremely polished and talented for a player his size, and he's a matchup nightmare for just about every other team in the league.
Yao and the two 4s can handle the bulk of the scoring in the post, while Artest is a good enough perimeter player to handle most of the scoring from out there.
One problem area for the team is the point guard slot, where Rafer Alston starts and is backed up by second-year man Aaron Brooks.
While both are capable as point guards for short streaks, neither can be counted on to consistently play at a high level day in and day out.
It's fairly clear that the Rockets' role players are able to flourish and play at a higher level when McGrady is out of the lineup.
The ball loses air in McGrady's hands, which hurts the team because the defense can easily zone in on him, without having to worry about back cuts and off-the-ball movement that players like Wafer and Brooks use to score when they're being relied upon to do so.
It's amazing that the Rockets are in the position they are, given the injury troubles they've been forced to endure over the course of the first half of the season.
It's likely that they'll make the playoffs, barring an utter collapse and/or another injury to Yao Ming, but this team still has a chance to have legitimate aspirations beyond the first round of the postseason.
If it turns out that the Rockets have to go the rest of the season with McGrady watching from the sidelines, they're still quite capable of being a very dangerous team in the playoffs, and a potential title-contender.
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