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NBA Weekly Preview
by Bryan Leonard - 03/02/2008
The Houston Rockets have been the hottest team in the NBA, so the season ending injury to center Yao Ming was quite a blow. Any chances of making a serious run in the West are likely over. However, that hasnâ€™t stopped the Rockets from playing hard. They didn't lose in February.
The Rockets are a great example of why depth and role players are so important. They can call on 7-foot-2 center Dikembe Mutombo to play center. Granted, heâ€™s 41-years old and is a defensive player, not the all-around force Yao is. The Rockets are also using Carl Landry and Luis Scola as a three-headed center. In a win over Memphis, the Rockets started Mutombo in Yao's place the second game, and he finished with 13 rebounds, four points and four blocks in 18 minutes, while Scola and Landry had 15 points apiece.
This week is going to be a challenge for the â€œnew lookâ€쳌 Rockets, playing at Dallas Thursday, then at home against New Orleans Saturday. They had an easy schedule in February, for the most part, so this will test how good they really are without Ming.
New Orleans has the busiest week of any team in the league, playing 5 games in 7 days this week. Wednesday the host Atlanta and Friday they host New Jersey, then by Saturday they are playing at Houston, their 5th game in 7 days (3 on the road). Circle that as a â€œtired spot.â€쳌
Is age catching up the Spurs? The defending champs have won 4 titles since 1999 and they are currently a veteran team. Most noticeable is that they are just 16-12 SU, 11-17 ATS on the road. They won but failed to cover again in a 96-94 victory at Milwaukee. "We were very fortunate," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "Milwaukee probably played better basketball for more minutes than we did."
It was interesting that the Spurs couldn't shake the feeling that they'd nearly given one away. "I don't think we approached the game with the right mentality, knowing that every game is so important," said Manu Ginobili. "It's easy to play against Dallas, and bring the right mentality. We've got to do that every game." Are they getting too old? This week will provide a good test, as they play at Denver Friday and two days later at Phoenix. Both games are on the road and against younger, run-and-gun teams. The Nuggets and Suns will run right at the older Spurs, so itâ€™s possibly a bad scheduling situation for San Antonio.
The Spurs are off a dazzling 10-1 February, but March is the busiest month in franchise history â€” an 18-game epic that should test their legs. The slate includes five separate sets of back-to-backs. They face the likes of Phoenix, Detroit, New Orleans, Boston and Denver (twice) in a 10-day span. "That schedule in March is going to be brutal," said point guard Tony Parker. "We have to be focused to make sure we get through it."
At least San Antonio has something to play for. Minnesota is going nowhere and faces a tough schedule this week: 3 road games in 5 days, starting Wednesday in Utah. They play at Utah, at Sacramento and at the Clippers. But thatâ€™s nothing compared to the young Sonics, who are starting a 7 game road this week. The toughest spot for Seattle will be this week, playing 4 road games in 5 days. They play at Detroit (Tuesday), at Milwaukee (Wed), at Philly (Friday) and at Toronto (Sunday). Hope they have their frequent flyer miles handy!