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Monday, March 10, 2008
Updated: March 11, 12:16 PM ET

By Tim Legler

Photo by Bill Baptist /Getty Images

Cousins Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady talked before Houston rolled to its 19th straight win.

Defensive Excellence Fuels Rockets

The Houston Rockets' recent run has been nothing short of amazing. Nineteen straight wins with this particular roster? Even winning eight in a row is difficult in this league.

The Rockets are now sitting on the victorious 19th hole after their 91-73 win Monday night over the Nets, and have a very good chance of surpassing the second-longest win streak in NBA history, the 20 compiled by the Bucks in the 1970-71 season. The Rockets need a win over playoff-hungry Atlanta on the road Wednesday and then at home against the Charlotte Bobcats on Friday. The record is 33 straight, set by the 1971-72 Lakers.

Right now, the Rockets have the Western Conference's No. 1 seed in their sights, sitting one game behind the Spurs and Lakers, who are tied for first. It's been a quick rise, using an NBA-best 28-4 mark since Jan. 1 to vault from out of the race to having a chance at the No. 1 seed in the competitive West.

Of greater significance, let's jump ahead to next week, putting aside what happens in the next two games. Starting Sunday, the road ahead will bring some challenges, with five games against the Lakers, Celtics, Hornets, Warriors and Suns approaching.

The Rockets might go 2-3 in those five games, and some might write them off as a fraud. But that judgment based on wins and losses would be wrong. You're going to drop some games in this league, even if you're a team as hot as the Rockets.

What's more important to me is how they compete, and if they are able to do the same things defensively. Even if they lost some games, I want to see if they make teams miserable with their defense. Stifling half-court defense is the name of the game in the playoffs.

This streak has shown us that the Houston style would be tough for many teams to deal with in the postseason.

This Houston team is a perfect storm of role players. Outside of Tracy McGrady, Bobby Jackson and perhaps Shane Battier, the Rockets consist of players who know they have to make a name for themselves in this league by hustling. Case in point: In the Rockets' win over the Nets, Chuck Hayes did not attempt a field goal, grabbed 10 rebounds and fouled out. As a role player in my playing days, I find this very refreshing to see.

I see fouls often as a sign a player is playing aggressively, committing himself completely to playing physical defense. You see some of the great scorers in this league play 44 minutes and commit only one foul. That's usually not a sign of a great commitment to defense.

There is also this matter of confidence. This streak shows the Rockets have a great deal of confidence in themselves and each other. Once you get to that level of belief, you're not going back. The hard part is getting there. Houston is there, with role players and a coaching staff that believes they can win.

So when Yao Ming went down after the 12th win of the streak, the roof wasn't going to fall in because this team was already at a high level of self-belief.

With Dikembe Mutombo in there, I think the Rockets are even better defensively than with Yao in the middle. Mutombo's focus on defense and rebounding makes him an anchor back there, allowing teammates to be more confident in taking chances defensively. He set the tone against the Nets, swatting five shots.

Yao has to be concerned with saving energy for the offensive end of the floor, since he's expected to carry much of the offensive weight. That's not an issue for Mutombo, who is counted on for the occasional dunk.

Toward the end of Houston's win over the Nets, we saw Mutombo and Jackson perched on the bench, two mounds of ice on their well-worn knees.

When you're icing the knees with more than four minutes to go, you know things are going well.

ESPN analyst Tim Legler is a regular contributor to the Daily Dime

Dimes Past: March 1-2 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 08-09 | 9 | 10

Don't Judge Shaq In Haste

By Chris Broussard |

While the Suns are still just 4-6 in the Shaquille O'Neal era, two of their victories are over San Antonio and Boston, two of the top four teams in the league.

Watching the Suns' win over the Spurs on TV, I noticed that Shaq looked a lot leaner. We've heard him praise the Suns' unconventional medical and training staff, and it looks like their methods are working.

I'll say this: If someone had told me before the trade that Shaq would give the Suns 11 points (11.1), 11 boards (10.8) and 1.4 blocks on 58 percent shooting, I'd say the Suns would be dangerous.

I admit I've been shocked by how well Shaq's rebounded in Phoenix. He hasn't been a great rebounder for the past few years. He averaged just nine rebounds two years ago, seven last season and he came to Phoenix averaging just seven this season.

See Chris Broussard blog

What Losing Wade Means

By Eric Karabell | ESPN Fantasy Games

Miami's goal, officially, is to have this procedure heal Dwyane Wade's left knee to the point that he doesn't have short seasons again. Obviously this would help his fantasy value if we can trust him. Unofficially, it also helps the Heat to lose more games and lock up the NBA's worst record, which was likely to happen regardless of the timing of this announcement. The Heat have a 2½-game "lead" in the race with Minnesota for the best chance to win the lottery and choose first in the next NBA draft. Congrats, here's your capper!

Of course, someone must replace Wade's numbers, though this team is ranked 29th out of 30 teams in points per game. Newcomer Shawn Marion has actually, and surprisingly, been a bit of a bust since coming over in the Shaquille O'Neal trade. In 13 games with Miami, Marion is averaging 14.5 points, 10.2 rebounds and has seen his steals, blocks and field-goal and free-throw percentages all drop with the moribund club. There's opportunity now for him to score more, but then again, in what league is he available? Don't sell the farm if you're still allowed to trade for him, as well. I don't think Marion is necessarily the biggest fantasy beneficiary here.

See the full Eric Karabell blog

News And Notes

The Associated Press

• New York is 0-12 on the road against Western Conference teams.

• The Mavs have won five straight against the Knicks and eight straight in Dallas.

• Knicks guard Nate Robinson, coming off a career-high 45 points, had five points on 2-of-14 shooting.

• New York's 31 first-half points were the lowest Dallas has allowed in any half this season. The Mavs had set their first-half low by allowing 34 to New Jersey the previous game.


Extreme Behavior

Hedo Turkoglu, Magic forward: Turkoglu had 23 points, 13 assists and 10 rebounds in a 123-112 win over the Hawks. It was the second triple-double of his career. On the same night, LeBron James got his 17th.

Richard Jefferson, Nets forward: His dunk on a nice feed from Vince Carter was the lone Nets highlight in the loss to Houston. However, Jefferson was outraged after getting hit with a T for an apparent finger-wag tribute to Dikembe. You may finger-wag to the crowd, but not an opponent. That's the rule. Let's get with it, RJ.

"It's pretty special being on this team and seeing him day in and day out. Being able to watch it, the fans are probably watching the best basketball player in the world. It's arguable between him and Kobe [Bryant], and I'm going to argue for him every day."

-- Cavs forward Wally Szczerbiak, on playing with LeBron James.

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Sam's Debut

David Dow/Getty Images

Sam Cassell made his Boston debut and was whistled for three fouls in his first 3:05. Cassell, signed after being bought out by the Clippers, had not played since spraining his right wrist on Feb. 20 and went scoreless.

"My timing is off. Not knowing the sets, not knowing where to go on the court is tough," Cassell said. "I know I'll play more than 5 minutes. I'm not even worried about it."


Hot And Cold

Elias Sports Bureau

On Friday night, the Kings lost at home to the lowly Timberwolves 111-103. But Sunday night, Sacramento beat the red-hot Lakers 114-113 in Los Angeles. It's been almost 13 years since a team, in consecutive games, lost at home to a team it led by at least 10 games in the standings (entering the game), then won on the road against a team it trailed by 10-plus games. The last team to pull this trick was the Mavericks in 1995. Dallas lost at home to Golden State on April 10, then won at Houston on April 11, 1995.

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