Hope y’all had a relaxing Spring break, but it’s time to get back to business. In this round of AtD, we’re talking about the Rockets’ unexpected win streak, the BoSox’ New York woes and the consequences of retiring Tyler Hansbrough’s number too quickly. Nation & world editor Kristen Lord, sports assistant Michael O’Donnell and staff writer Justin Jez are the contestants. Staff writer Bobby Olivier is the ref.
1) The Houston Rockets are riding a major win streak that has put them in line for Western Conference supremacy. What do you think has been the biggest factor of this streak, and are the Rockets a legit Championship threat?
KL: Stellar defense has been a big part of achieving the streak. Houston’s offensive game in the first half of their 20th victory was awful, but the defense kept the score close. They’ve been getting rebounds from Luis Scola and Dikembe Mutombo, and then there’s Tracy McGrady. He took control of the team when it needed him the most, scoring an average of 27.7 points per game in March. What is most effective for this team is not relying on individual talent but on the sum of all players. However, I think the Rockets have yet to prove they can score big against tough opponents. If the team is able to contend with the likes of the Lakers and the Celtics in upcoming games, momentum could keep it going toward the playoffs. As for the championship, it’s not likely. I’d just like to see them make it through the first round this time.
MO: If I could tell you, I would. The Rockets’ 22-game win streak is a mystery to me and to several experts across the country. Considering they recently lost Yao Ming for the season, success was unexpected. However, the team got some lucky breaks. Twelve of its wins have come against teams with losing records. The Rockets have also been catching elite teams at the right time. They played the Hornets without star forward David West (sprained ankle), the Mavericks without clutch forward Dirk Nowitzki (suspension) and the Lakers without key forward/center Pau Gasol. Now, don’t discount the Rockets’ talent; they’ve certainly come together and played extremely well in the adversity of losing Ming, but the schedule has definitely helped. I’d say the combination of the timing, schedule and coming together as a team are the reasons why the Rockets are winning.
JJ: No one expected this from the Rockets because they have notoriously been an up-and-down team. So how are they doing it? They’re playing amazing defense. Before, Ming rested on defense because he was expected to shoulder most of the offensive load. Now, the able-bodied 41-year-old Mutombo has provided tough and consistent interior defense that was lacking with Ming. McGrady’s health and talent have taken over on offense, which is bolstered by Rafer Alston’s best NBA year. Chuck Hayes has been playing superb defense. In the Rockets’ game aganst the Nets, he grabbed 10 rebounds and fouled out of the game without attempting a shot. The versatility and toughness of Scola and Shane Battier have helped on the offensive end while playing aggressive, hard-nosed defense with Mutombo and Hayes. As far as the playoffs go, the Rockets have little chance of advancing to the finals. After Mutombo, they have no one to guard the West’s dominant big men. Sooner or later, the magic will run out. My vote goes for sooner.
BO: Because Jez gave the most thorough description, he gets the 3. For analyzing one game in particular as an example, Kristen gets the 2, and Mike gets the 1 for not giving enough concrete facts.
2) Curt Schilling and Josh Beckett may start the regular season grabbing pine. Do you think the BoSox should be worried about the Yankees regaining control of the AL East or is this just a bump in the road for Boston?
KL: Beckett led MLB last year with 20 wins before being deemed the 2007 ALCS MVP. Manager Terry Francona should be praying that Beckett’s back doesn’t keep him on the bench. Schilling will be out until the All-Star break, but I don’t see this as a major loss for the Sox. He was an amazing pitcher, but he’s 41 and not in the best physical shape. He has great control but his fastball is gone and he’s done after this season. Even if these injuries don’t affect Boston, I’m not convinced the Sox are a shoo-in for the No. 1 spot in the AL East. The Yankees, while holding on to key veteran field players, now display a much younger bullpen. Joba Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy and Phil Hughes had effective rookie seasons, and after watching them in spring training, I’d say the Yankees have potential for some great, reliable, consistent pitchers.
MO: I believe it’s both. The Red Sox know they’re talented, and even if they lost their ace and veteran pitchers, they’ll still play well. Beckett won’t be gone for very long. Lest we forget, the Sox still have Japanese sensation Daisuke Matsuzaka, young gun Clay Bucholz and inspiraton Jon Lester, not to mention one of the most potent and powerful offenses in all of baseball. They were fifth in batting average (.279), third in runs scored (867), third in slugging percentage (.444) and second in on-base percentage (.362). Combined with the offense, a couple of spot starters should fill in nicely until Beckett returns. And although Schilling will be gone until at least the All-Star break, the BoSox will at least be within arm’s reach of the division lead.
JJ: Any time two of your best pitchers are injured is cause for concern. However, I don’t foresee this being a major issue down the road. The worse of the two injuries is Schilling’s shoulder, but the idea of giving Schilling half the year off isn’t bad. At this point in his career, all you care about with Schilling is his health going into the playoffs. Give him all the time he needs. Beckett, on the other hand, may be out a few weeks. Back injuries just need time to heal. Starting the season off in Japan is also something Beckett may enjoy skipping. In the meantime, the Sox bullpen can keep the ship afloat until Beckett comes back. Schilling should just pull a Roger Clemens and take spring training in late July. It’s a long season, and the Sox will be right there with the Yanks the whole time.
BO: I like the point Mike makes with his statistics and discussion of other Sox pitchers, but for not mentioning the Yankees at all, he wins this round with 2.5. Jez makes a good point about Japan for the 2 and Kristen rounds out the round with the 1.
3) The University of North Carolina announced this week that they will be retiring Tyler Hansbrough’s No. 50 once his career as a Tar Heel has ended. Is it too soon to declare this honor, and do you think it will be a distraction for the team during March Madness?
KL: I don’t doubt that Hansbrough deserves to have his number retired – someday. He’s leading his conference this season in scoring with an average of 23.1 points per game and was voted the Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year. These great accomplishments make him worthy of having his number retired. But announcing this honor so soon was a mistake. Hansbrough hasn’t finished his junior season yet. We’ve all seen players have an amazing season one year only to tank the next. At the end of his collegiate career would have been a more appropriate time to honor him in such a way. The hype surrounding Hansbrough is taking away from the rest of the team. Hansbrough has a great supporting cast around him, but the limelight isn’t generally focused on the rest of the No.1-ranked team. With March Madness in full swing, the Heels should be focusing on nothing but winning that championship.
MO: I would have liked to have seen the announcement of Hansbrough’s jersey being retired after his career ends. He’s one of the greatest players to play for the Heels, and his contributions to the team shouldn’t be overlooked. However, I feel they should have waited at least until his senior season. However, the announcement may not be big enough to be considered a distraction. This team, made up of Hansbrough, sharpshooters Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington and the versatile Danny Green, has all the tools necessary to overcome obstacles and advance deep into March and possibly April. They won the ACC tournament, are going to be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and are on the fast track to the Final Four and Championship.
JJ: This is insanity. I’m aware of UNC’s policy of retiring the jersey of any player who garners an NCAA Player of the Year award, but this is just weird. He is only a junior. He is also in the middle of trying to win a national championship. Why address the policy so openly and make such a big deal? You can’t hang someone’s jersey in the rafters while it’s still on his back. As focused and mentally tough as Hansbrough is, having your school talk of retiring your jersey has to be distracting. This gesture also gives the impression that UNC is expecting Hansbrough not to return for his senior year. The rest of the UNC team does not need to be thinking about this. Hansbrough is here now, and they need him to be successful in the tournament. Leave this jersey stuff for the end of the story.
BO: Kristen wins the final round, earning herself 3 points, because she gave me the best argument. Even though I don’t think the number retiring is insinuating Hansbrough is done after this year, Jez makes a good point and gets the 2. Sorry Mike, you get the 1.
In a 7-6-4.5 win, Jez earns his second victory of the semester.