The long, winding road
The Houston Rockets are a team in turmoil right now, and they're about to march their problems right into the lion's den on Saturday when they face the Los Angeles Lakers to begin the first round of the NBA playoffs.
You can never underestimate team chemistry. And with Kelvin Cato leading the charge, the Rockets are struggling to get on the same page with each other and with coach Jeff Van Gundy. Van Gundy is as prophetic and analytical as any coach in the league. He's quick to point out when his team isn't playing hard or smart ball. Tack on their lack of depth, and the Rockets have a tough road ahead of them.
All the while, a self-described "fatigued" Yao Ming continues to be a breath of fresh air by taking responsibility for his own shortcomings and poor performance. Yao might want to take a lesson from some of the less forthright players in the league who, when things don't go their way, simply point the blame somewhere else. And although Yao isn't an "I confess, he did it" kind of player, that certainly won't stop Van Gundy from calling him out to try to get him going.
The Rockets will need peak performances from each of their veterans to match up in this series -- something that rarely happened this season. Cuttino Mobley and Steve Francis, who's currently day-to-day with a swollen elbow, need to play better than they've ever played. Clarence Weatherspoon and Maurice Taylor also need to deliver. And Cato needs to get his shoulder and his head back in the game. They can't continue to put the onus on Yao to go out there and beat Shaquille O'Neal by himself. That's not the way this works.
If the Rockets think they can come in and play well based on earlier meetings against the Lakers, they're in for a rude awakening. The key Rockets have no playoff experience. Francis, Mobley and the rest must rally together and play with pride and as a real team to make something happen against this Lakers squad. L.A., like all great championship teams, has little or no respect for its opposition. And despite the fact that Yao is at his absolute best against Shaq, the Lakers see the Rockets as a mere bump in the road towards their destination -- another championship.
Picture this bright brown ball just spinning -- spinning free and dizzy with possibilities.
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