How much are the Rockets missing T-Mac?

Tracy McGrady

Here’s a hypothetical I was chewing on even before the news broke that Yao Ming will miss the rest of the playoffs with a broken foot: how badly are the Houston Rockets missing Tracy McGrady in their second round series against the Lakers?

Many people have argued the opposite, saying that it’s only because McGrady is out that the Rockets have made it this far. It’s a compelling argument, one that I was inclined to believe for a time myself. However, when it comes to the team’s current series against L.A., I think the Rockets are missing T-Mac desperately.

The reason is that what the Rockets lack more than anything else right now is offensive firepower: something McGrady provides in no short supply. Defensively, Houston has been excellent the entire postseason – and McGrady is no slouch as a defender himself. If T-Mac was able to stay within the confines of what’s been working for the Rockets offensively (quick point guards Aaron Brooks and Kyle Lowry getting into the lane and kicking the ball out to open shooters, Houston could have seen a major uptick in their offensive production.

But with Yao out for the playoffs, McGrady is the one player who could have possibly given the Rockets a chance to compete with L.A. With T-Mac, the Rockets could have gone small by playing him at the 2, Artest at the 3 and Shane Battier at the 4, forcing the Lakers to match them by playing Lamar Odom at the 4. Without McGrady, the Rockets will still likely go small, sometimes playing Brooks and Lowry together in the same backcourt, sometimes bringing in Von Wafer, but the impact will not be nearly the same. The lineup may not even be dangerous enough to make L.A. want to go small to match Houston’s personnel.

The real story here, however, is that in discussing Houston’s playoff potential, it is once again a “what if?” hypothetical. As J.A. Adande writes in a column for ESPN.com, Houston has to wonder how much longer it wants to bank on Yao as the centerpiece of its franchise, given his considerable injury history. He and McGrady were a dream combination on paper, but this year, as usual, they have failed to come together on the court.

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