The Houston Rockets have gotten 17 points, five rebounds and five assists from their two best players this season.
Center Yao Ming will miss the entire season after undergoing extensive surgery to repair a stress fracture and reshape the bones in his left foot. Guard Tracy McGrady missed the Rockets’ first 23 games while recovering from microfracture surgery on his left knee and has seen limited action off the bench in the last six games.
Yet Houston has managed a 17-12 record. That has come even though their leading scorer, guard Aaron Brooks, is averaging a very ordinary 17.1 points a game.
The Rockets have seven players with scoring averages of 8.2 ppg or better and three in double figures besides Brooks: swingman Trevor Ariza (17.0) and forwards Carl Landry (16.4) and Luis Scola (14.7). Landry has a 125 Offensive Rating off the bench while forward Shane Battier, a favorite of statistically savvy Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, has a 115 mark and guard Kyle Lowry has posted a 113 off the bench.
“Every night it's a different person,” Landry said. “You never know who it’s going to be. That’s what makes us a great team.”
Scola certainly appreciates the talents of Yao and McGrady, but he thinks playing without them has forced the Rockets to maximize their talent.
“I believe it's a great thing to have so many guys who can score,” Scola said. “Some games, you are going to miss the 25-points-a-night-guy that you can go to and believe in and is going to deliver a basket. I believe this is the right way to play basketball. Everybody is involved. Whoever gets the open shot or the best matchup is the one that is supposed to take the shot and that is supposed to change. It can't always be the same one.
"With that being said, there will be nights we'll miss the guy that give us 25 points a night. We have a lot of guys averaging between 18 and 10 but it’s not like every game everybody scores their average. Sometimes one scores 25. You don't know who to focus on.”
Woodson Focuses Hawks on Turnovers
The magic number when it comes to turnovers for Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Woodson is 12 a game, one per player.
He even has a deal with his players based on that number. If they commit less than 12 turnovers a game, they can bank the leftovers. If they go over 12, withdrawals are made. Should the Hawks lose all those in the bank then they have to run at practice as punishment.
The system has caught the players’ attention.
“The only statistic we focus on is turnovers,” center Al Horford said.
The attention to moving the ball flawlessly on the offensive end is paying off. Atlanta is averaging an NBA-low 12.1 turnovers a game and their 114.0 Offensive Rating also leads the league. That is a big reason why they are 20-8.
“I just think if you're going to be a good offensive team, you can't turn the ball over because it limits your chances of scoring the ball,” Woodson said.
The Hawks are seventh in assists with 22.1 a game. They have assisted on 55 percent of their field goals.
“We don’t take a lot of risks,” guard Jamal Crawford said. “Like in transition, we know we can get an alley-oop here or there, but other than that, we’re making safe, simple plays and making sure it gets into guys' hands.”
Reeling Pistons Hit Hard by Injury
The Detroit Pistons lost their sixth straight game Wednesday night, getting routed 94-64 at home by the Toronto Raptors to fall to 11-18. It seems the Pistons might finally be collapsing under the weight of a season-long string of injuries.
Guard Ben Gordon (ankle), guard/forward Rip Hamilton (ankle) and forward Tayshaun Prince (back) are all ailing, leaving the Pistons with almost no offense. The 64 points matched their lowest output since the NBA adopted the 24-second shot clock prior to the 1954-55 season.
“When you get into this climate where you're losing, it's no fun,” coach John Kuester said. “It plays on you a little bit but these guys are going to bounce back.”
Guard Rodney Stuckey insists the Pistons are not going to quit.
“We're a young group,” he said. “We're always going to have high spirits. I don't think we'll ever get down on each other. We've already proven that we can play with the best teams. A losing streak is all part of basketball. It happens.”
Van Gundy Gives Credit to Sloan
Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy, in his sixth NBA season, could not help but marvel at Jerry Sloan, his counterpart with the Utah Jazz, when the teams met Monday night in Orlando. Sloan has coached for 22 seasons, all with the Jazz, making him the longest-tenured coach in league history.
“I think it’s just a phenomenal accomplishment what Jerry has done,” Van Gundy said. “It's absolutely incredible. For him to do it this long, I don't know if it's great mental toughness or if the guy is just out of his mind.”
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John Perrotto is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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