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NBA PM: Houston Rockets Set To Make History?
Posted By Bill Ingram On May 2, 2013 @ 5:00 pm In Main Page,NBA | No Comments
In a year in which injuries have both dominated postseason news and changed the dynamic of a number of playoff series, yet another injury has pushed to the forefront as teams prepare to finish off the first round of the 2013 NBA playoffs. A postseason run that was already diminished by the absence of the likes of Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant and Chicago Bulls floor leader Derrick Rose has since seen Oklahoma City Thunder All-Star Russell Westbrook, Golden State Warriors All-Star David Lee and San Antonio Spurs big man Tiago Splitter hit the sidelines with injuries. Los Angeles Clippers All-Star Blake Griffin has joined the ever-expanding list. Griffin discusses his sprained ankle and what the Clippers need to do to extend their series against the Memphis Grizzlies in this video interview.Watch More Video Here
Houston Rockets Set To Make History?
It’s never been done before, but then why should that matter to the NBA team that plays in the venue once known as Clutch City? No team has ever come back from an 0-3 deficit to win a seven-game playoff series, which would seem to doom this year’s Houston Rockets, but then there are some extenuating circumstances that might just create an opening for an unprecedented upset of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
In the vast majority of cases, the top seed in a conference makes quick work of the eighth seed in their first round match-up. It makes sense, too, since the top seed is, by definition, a contender and the eighth seed often struggled just to make the playoffs. This year’s match-up between the eighth-seeded Rockets and the top-seeded Thunder started off just that way, too, with the Thunder storming out to what is usually an insurmountable 3-0 series lead. But then fate took a turn, and All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook went down with a knee injury that will preclude him from taking part in any more playoff games this season.
For the Rockets, that was the sound of opportunity knocking.
The Thunder opened Game 3 looking ready to blow the Rockets right out of the building, using their anger at the loss of Westbrook as fuel for their charge. At one point, Kevin Durant even shouted into a nearby camera, “THIS IS MY TEAM,” after scoring on a drive. Unfortunately for the Thunder, that energy didn’t last long. Durant seemed to run out of steam as the game moved along, and by the fourth quarter he was held at bay by Rockets role player Francisco Garcia. After building a 26-point lead in the first half, the Thunder needed a lucky bounce on a Durant three-pointer to come away with a 104-101 win. In Game 4, the Rockets were much more aggressive right from the start, and once again their defense of Durant late in the game prevented OKC’s MVP candidate from taking over and delivering a win. With Durant looking to pass rather than score in crunch time, the Rockets were able to pull out a 105-103 win, narrowly avoiding elimination.
The Game 4 win seemed to build a great deal of confidence in the Rockets, and they came out of the locker room ready to wreck havoc as Game 5 got underway. The normally boisterous OKC crowd sat in stunned silence for much of the first three quarters, all of which were won by the visitors, and after building a 16-point lead the Rockets settled for a 107-100 win to force Game 6.
“I said all year long, the beauty of this group of kids is they fight,” Rockets head coach Kevin McHale said after the game. “We’ve had bad games this year, but we turned around and had good games behind them. The guys are battlers. To me, that’s a huge part of this game. These guys fight every single night. Francisco said to me after the shootaround, ‘Man, I like these playoffs. This is a lot of fun.’ I said, ‘Let’s keep going then.’”
After two straight wins, the Rockets have built some momentum as they head back to the friendly confines of Toyota Center for Game 6 on Friday night. Still, there is that little matter of history.
In the 1994 playoffs, the Rockets became known for their resiliency after going down 0-2 to the Phoenix Suns in the second round and coming back to win the series 4-3. The local press began referring to Houston as “Choke City” when the team dropped the first two games, but changed it to “Clutch City” after the Rockets’ comeback. The moniker stuck, and despite the fact that the team hasn’t contended since they won their second championship in 1995, Rockets faithful are still prone to use the name from time to time.
Their hope is that this year’s squad might give them even more reason to do so.
Granted, the 1994 team didn’t have the advantage of losing a primary opponent to injury, and they weren’t down 0-3, as this year’s team is. Still, consequences aside, the 2013 Houston Rockets look like they have a great chance to become the first team to ever come back from an 0-3 hole.
For the Thunder, the only way they can avoid being on the dubious side of history is for Durant and company to figure things out in a hurry.
“We cannot give them confidence to start the game,” Durant said after Wednesday night’s loss. “I have to be better as a leader and lead my guys and get us to play harder every minute.”
One thing we know for sure is that the Rockets absolutely will play hard for 48 minutes. If the Thunder can’t match that intensity, it could be a painfully long summer for them.
A Fast Year For Bradley Beal
Washington Wizards rookie Bradley Beal may have come in third in Rookie of the Year voting, but that doesn’t mean the Wizards aren’t pleased with the third overall selection in last summer’s NBA draft.
“You never know what you’re going to get, or how quickly things will come to a 19-year-old who has played one year of college,” Coach Randy Wittman told the Washington Post‘s Michael Lee recently. “But he did show a great sense of adjusting quickly to what was happening around him, through everything. The thing that was impressive was, I saw, each time he got another second time around with an individual or a team, he learned and he improved and he got smarter with what he had to do.”
For Beal, the year seemed to blow by, and was a reflection of the many lessons he learned from Florida head coach Billy Donovan.
“I can still remember all my conversations with Coach Donovan,” Beal said, recently, shaking his head. “This year went really fast, probably the fastest year of basketball I’ve ever played. It’s definitely been a fun year.”
Conditioning was an issue for Beal, who missed 26 games, but when the dust settled he and point guard John Wall looked very good together by season’s end. Two of Beal’s best games of the year came in March, when he dropped 29 points and 11 rebounds on the New York Knicks and then racked up 24 points and four assists against the Toronto Raptors.
“It was everything I thought it would be and a little bit more,” said Beal, who was named Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month twice. “I know there would be times when I would struggle. Guys are a lot stronger, faster – and these guys are good. That’s what a lot of people don’t realize. You may never have heard of anybody, but they can play. They’re not here for no reason.”
“He did great. He has the killer instinct,” Wall said of his new backcourt mate. “I think he just didn’t have it right away. He didn’t want to come in stepping on anybody’s toes so he kind of played the back seat. It was great see him get to the level he can be at, starting to play at a high level before I came back. When I came it just made it a lot easier for him. He just kept going and going. He just got set back by some injuries.”
The Wizards have a lot of work to do this summer to get the team ready to compete for a playoff spot, but it’s clear that the backcourt is moving in the right direction. If Wall and Beal are both healthy next season the team might just be ready to push for a playoff berth.
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