Saturday, May 03, 2008

Time to take a look at roster


Rockets need thorough review of team after another first round exit

SALT LAKE CITY — Another embarrassing finish, another long offseason. Will the Rockets ever get it right?

They had legitimate excuses for failing again. Don't they always? Yes, they were short-handed. No Yao Ming, etc.

It's a bottom-line business, and the bottom line is that the Rockets didn't show up for start of the game that ended their season.

They were outworked by the Utah Jazz from the beginning, and there's no excuse for that.

Maybe they were going to lose anyway, but the way they went down should force general manager Daryl Morey to take a hard look at his roster.

The Rockets did the basic things as well as any team in the NBA while winning 22 in a row during the regular season. Those are the things that failed them Friday night.

Rebounding. Defense. Turnovers. They were out of the game almost before it began, falling behind by 19 in the first half. They don't have that many injuries. They don't have that much youth. They're not that small.

They rallied to get within four at halftime but had nothing left for the second half and were smoked 113-91 in Game 6 of a first-round series.

"We just didn't have enough answers for them," Rick Adelman said.

Tracy McGrady? He was magnificent with 40 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. He scored 24 of those points in the first half, making play after play when no one else was doing a thing.

"He didn't have much help," Shane Battier said. "He kept us in the game. He was a one-man wrecking ball out there."

No matter what you think of the Rockets this morning, don't put this defeat on McGrady.

He did go scoreless in the third quarter and got his final 16 points after the thing had been decided.

By that time, the Jazz were running at least two defenders at him on every possession. Their defense was geared to stop one man because that's what the Rockets were down to.

The Rockets lost because they had nothing for the start of the game, and because Rafer Alston left in the first half with an ankle injury.

"We're a different ball club when he's not in our lineup," McGrady said.

They lost because Dikembe Mutombo drew two fouls in the opening three minutes of the game, because they were a step slow defensively and because they lost almost every individual match-up.

Mehmet Okur had his way with Luis Scola. Deron Williams beat up both Alston and Bobby Jackson. Carlos Boozer outplayed Chuck Hayes.

The Jazz got double-figure scoring from seven players. The Rockets had McGrady and little else.

"Their better players stepped up," Adelman said.

Adelman went up and down his bench looking for a combination that worked. He never found it.

The lack of offense that worried him before the series all turned out to be insurmountable. Players not named McGrady shot 33 percent from the field.

Here's the requisite excuse. No team should be expected to win without its center and point guard, but trailing by 19 in the first half and 26 in the second is inexcusable.

Perceptions can be cruel. Perceptions can be false. Which brings us to McGrady.

There'll be one national story line.

McGrady fails again.

His teams have been to the playoffs seven times and failed to get out of the first round seven times. The Rockets haven't advanced since 1997, but that's another story.

This will be the third time in four years the Rockets lost in the first round. This is the second time in four years they were blown out in the deciding game. Is it all on McGrady?

Of course not.

"It is what it is," McGrady said. "Out of the seven years, I've probably been favored one time. I'm eager to get out (of the first round). That's for damn sure. I'm not going to let it hold me back."

McGrady's scoring average has gone up in the playoffs in six of the seven years he has made it. His career scoring average is seven points a game higher than the regular season.

That said, stats mean nothing. Star players are judged only by the bottom line, and the bottom line hasn't been kind to McGrady. No one is going to stop and read the fine print.

You're tired of reading about it by now, aren't you? You just want results.

Amid the disappointment, the Rockets would like you to know they're also proud.

They're proud of what they accomplished in a season in which the parts were constantly changed.

To lose McGrady for a time and Yao for a longer time and to still win 55 games speaks volumes about the character and professionalism of the group.

"We have a bright future," McGrady said. "We were out there competing with three rookies, with an undersized team, with a 41-year-old playing center. I'm proud of what we accomplished."

Listen to Richard Justice weekdays from 10 a.m.-noon on 1560 AM.

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