Updated Feb. 26
Agony of da-feet, indeed.
Houston has won 12 in a row and 16 of its last 17. With Washington and Memphis on tap this week, the Rockets were destined for a perfect February and, perhaps, great things the rest of the way.
|Hardworking Luis Scola and Carl Landry won't cheat the Houston fans, but the West deck is stacked against them. (Getty Images)|
Now comes the news that All-Star center Yao Ming has a stress fracture in his left foot and will miss the rest of the regular season and the playoffs.
Was Houston a championship contender with Yao? Without a doubt. Is Houston a championship contender without him? Not a chance.
First, the obvious: Yao is 7-6 and averages 22 points, 10.8 rebounds and two blocks per game. He's shooting 51 percent from the field. At 85 percent, he's more accurate from the foul line than most starting point guards.
You don't just plug somebody into the lineup and replace that productivity.
Speaking of which: Who will the Rockets plug into the lineup?
Of the 15 players on Houston's roster -- counting Yao and three guys on injured reserve -- 10 are point guards, shooting guards or small forwards. That includes 6-10 Steve Novak, who will have to help in the paint now, even though 12 of his 18 field goals this season have come from 3-point range.
Now, a word about Scola and Landry. Actually, two words: high energy. You'll find their handprints on the 12-game winning streak; they have combined to average 19.3 points and 11.3 rebounds and shoot 58 percent from the field during that stretch.
Great stats, actually. Comparable to what Yao puts up. But how will Scola and Landry fare against Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum? Amare Stoudemire and Shaquille O'Neal? Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur? David West and Tyson Chandler?
Oh, and Tim Duncan? Dirk Nowitzki? You get the picture.
Don't get me wrong. The Rockets won't just sit still. It's too late to trade, but they can sign a free-agent big man. And they can embrace Small Ball, a la Golden State. But it will be tough now to keep pace in the wildly competitive West.
And for the Rockets, who were up to something special, it's a shame.
This week's Power Rankings: