I don’t like to write pre-game pieces, but with just 2 hours until the Houston Rockets host the Los Angeles Lakers, I have to say that I’m too excited to think about much else. Writing gives my mind some place to go until tip off. How sad is that?
Five things make this game intriguing for me:
1 – The winner will hold first place in the Western Conference play off race.
2 – Both teams will be hampered at the center position.
3 – The Lakers take their injury ridden line up into hostile territory to challenge the Rockets’ 21 game winning streak.
4 – Today’s game will also feature two of my favorite hustle and heart players: Luis Scola and Ronny Turiaf.
5 – It’s Kobe versus Tracy in a game that really matters, and in a game where they both are forced to play without their #1 sidekick.
— 1. WESTERN CONFERENCE TOP SEED
This really speaks for itself.
— 2. HAMPERED AT CENTER
The Rockets are playing without Yao Ming, but still have future hall of famer Dikembe Mutombo, but he’s aged. The Lakers are without starting center Andrew Bynum, who filled in for traded starting center Kwame Brown, who filled in for injured starting center Chris Mihm, who eventually was replaced by starting Center Pau Gasol who is now out with an ankle sprain.
While Kareem is busy teaching Lakers centers, maybe he ought to teach them how to have a long career.
— 3. ROCKETS’ WINNING STREAK
Kobe and Phil Jackson are on record praising the Rockets’ winning streak as remarkable.
Perhaps the most remarkable part of the streak is how lucky the Rockets are to have it.
The Rockets played 12 opponents with losing records, faced New Orleans without David West, faced Dallas without Dirk Nowitzki, and now face the Lakers without Gasol, Bynum, Mihm, Ariza and with Kobe’s shooting hand injured enough to require surgery.
Please, do not misinterpret what I just wrote as saying the Rockets’ streak isn’t remarkable, because I truly feel it is and have defended it elsewhere.
But that doesn’t mean they haven’t been lucky as well, and they’d be the first to tell you that.
“I take solace in the fact that we are the luckiest team in, maybe, the history of NBA basketball,” Rockets forward Shane Battier said. “If that’s our distinction, that’s fine by us.”
— 4. SCOLA AND TURIAF
One matchup I’m looking forward to is the clash of the high energy bigs Ronny Turiaf vs. Luis Scola.
Ironically, Ronny Turiaf’s NBA career began as he become known as the man whose heart wasn’t fit for NBA play. Drafted 37th overall, Ronny was released by the Lakers and his contract voided when it was learned he had an enlarged aortic root, known as aneurysm of sinus of Valsalva. Although under no obligation to do so, the Lakers paid for Ronny’s heart operation and wished him the best. Their wish came true and eventually Ronny passed on playing for more money in Spain for a chance to be the 12th man on the Lakers bench. Before long, Ronny’s heart moved him up the bench and into the starting line up at times as the Lakers dealt with unusual adversity in terms of injuries since his arrival.
As for Luis Scola, how many of you know that the Rockets streak started EXACTLY with the game Luis Scola was inserted into the starting lineup? On January 27, against the Utah Jazz, Yao Ming couldn’t play due to a respiratory problem, so Scola temporarily started at center. Scola had 18 points and six rebounds in a loss against the Utah Jazz., but he played so well Houston coach Rick Adelman made Scola their starting power forward, and the Rockets have not lost since.
Prior to his gig with the NBA, Scola played in Spain where he is a two-time MVP of the Spanish league. Scola was Argentina’s leading scorer when they won the gold medal in the 2004 Olympics as well.
If you think the Lakers got Pau Gasol for nothing, at least they gave up Marc Gasol, Javaris Crittenton and Kwame Brown. The Rockets gave up Vassilis Spanoulis, a second-round draft pick and cash to get Scola from the Spurs!
These two energy players play with all their heart every game, and I just love players like that.
— 5. KOBE VS. TRACY
“I know Kobe,” Tracy McGrady said. “I know that’s where his head is. In his head he’s thinking, ‘If it’s going to end, it’s going to end with me.’ He’s a fierce competitor. That’s just who he is.”
It is a team game, and hopefully both these players remember that, but both of these teams will need these two to step up in a big way if they are going to win, and THAT is going to be a blast to see!