The Mavs have a big game tonight against division rivals that had been nipping at their heels for about two months and have finally caught and passed them in the standings. Interesting that they finally passed the Mavs as the Rockets have already lost to them three times this season. The Mavs have now won six straight against Houston and this is the final Mavs-Rockets game of the regular season.
As you probably know, Yao Ming is out for the season after suffering a stress fracture in his foot. He underwent successful surgery on Monday, but his first chance at action may not be until the Olympics.
Without him, the Rockets lose the obvious cog that drives their team...but not all is lost. 41-year-old Dikembe Mutombo has stepped in to play more minutes and has averaged over 18 minutes per game since Yao has been out. He is still a decent shot blocker and is still an angry old guy who can be aggressive down low and still has a few lessons to teach these young whippersnappers. Luis Scola has also stepped up to contribute more, and will be a big part of the Rockets' regular-season finish. Over his last five games, he's averaging 15.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and is shooting 65 percent from the floor.
Hotter than hot
Despite the loss of Yao, the Rockets continue to plug forward and are riding an NBA season-high 16-game win streak. In the first few months of the season, it was really looking like the Rockets would be fighting tooth and nail to make the playoffs, but now they look like a no doubter. They are only 2.5 games back for the division lead and could very well move into a top four seed if they can continue to keep up the energy they have carried in this streak. However, they must make sure and not burn it all now though (remember that Mavs fans?).
Bonzi and James out, Jackson in
The Rockets had a couple of moves at the trade deadline that weren't Earth-shattering, but are interesting nonetheless. They made a deal with New Orleans in which they essentially received backup guard Bobby Jackson and sent Mike James and Bonzi Wells out of town. It's puzzling as it wasn't really a salary dump per se (Wells' deal expires at the end of this season), but Jackson and James have very similar deals. The only catch? James has a player option after next season to make over $6 million, which one would imagine he would take since he stinks. So, in Jackson, the Rockets have a proven outside shooter and a guy with lots of playoff experience. He can be injury prone, but the Rockets obviously see him as possessing something they lacked. They also dealt with the Timberwolves to acquire Gerald Green, who has yet to do much with Houston.
Can they muster a strong playoff run without their dominant center?
-Scooter Hendon, Hoops Nerd