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[Chron] Rockets vets seek playoff payoff

Discussion in 'Houston Rockets: Game Action & Roster Moves' started by macfan, Apr 22, 2005.

  1. macfan

    macfan Contributing Member

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    http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/ssistory.mpl/sports/3147615

    Rockets seek playoff payoff
    Veterans to use lessons learned in past postseasons to change fortunes
    By JONATHAN FEIGEN


    Bob Sura received nothing. The Detroit Pistons won the championship and passed out the usual rings/hood ornaments. They earned rich playoff bonuses. Rasheed Wallace even got everyone gaudy, boxing-style championship belts.

    Sura, who played 53 games for the Pistons before being traded to make the finances work in the deal to acquire Wallace, received no ring, no playoff share, no hearty handshake. He did not get so much as a shirt proclaiming, "My ex-team went to the White House and all I got was this lousy T-shirt."

    But that is how the playoffs have been for most of the Rockets, filled with disappointment that has left them empty-handed other than with a hunger that they said now drives them.

    Sura finished the season in Atlanta, far from the postseason. Dikembe Mutombo, Vin Baker and Moochie Norris, in New York, were out in the first round. Jon Barry, Ryan Bowen and David Wesley, all were one and done. Yao Ming, Clarence Weatherspoon and Scott Padgett were part of the Rockets' one-round cameo.

    Up and down the Rockets' roster and through all the seasons of the NBA's oldest, most experienced group of players, the story has been the same. No rings. No championship. Not even a lousy T-shirt.

    But now, they said, they see a chance, and appreciate the possibilities in ways that perhaps they never could before.

    "That would be the urgency," Wesley said. "I think people are realizing the possibilities. We've shown signs of what we're capable of doing. That sense of urgency is there. This is a really good team, a team with a lot of potential. Let's take advantage of it."


    One-ring circus
    Mike James, sent to Detroit last season in the trade-deadline moves that shipped out Sura, is the lone exception. But Sura's two-thirds of a season with Detroit and Mutombo's two trips to the NBA Finals are as close as the rest of the Rockets have come to a title.

    The Rockets' playoff roster is a combined 145-195 in the postseason. In a combined 45 trips to the playoffs, Rockets players have been on the winning end of just 26 playoff series. Only James, Barry and Mutombo have been past the second round. Tracy McGrady, Yao and Sura have never won a playoff series. Among the starters, Weatherspoon and Sura have never started a playoff game.

    "We have some experience on our team," Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy said. "But basically, it's all negatives. It's all heartbreak."

    But that, the Rockets have said, drives them. They dispute the notion that for many, the window is rapidly closing. Rather, most of the Rockets said there is a sense this is the best chance most of the team has had to make a postseason run.

    Having paid the dues, they said it is time to cash in.

    "I feel as confident in this group as I have in any group I've ever been on," Barry said. "I've been on some good teams. But I feel the confidence of this group more so than any team I've ever been on.

    "It's a combination of a lot of things. It's ability. Camaraderie. Belief. Trust in one another. There's a sense that we can really do something."

    Van Gundy has warned that experience is useless unless its lessons are applied. "Otherwise," he said, "you're just older."


    Know the playoffs well
    But last season's Rockets were handicapped by their lack of playoff experience. This season's team, while largely lacking in postseason success, should have enough familiarity with the playoffs to at least remove the question of experience as a potential handicap.

    "Dikembe, 90-something games, Finals," Barry said, starting on the list of postseason experiences. "Mike James, won a championship. David Wesley, about 50 games. I've played more than 50 games. Tracy's had about 20 games. You can take a lot out of your playoff experiences. It's usually a process. You get in the first round and get knocked out. Maybe a couple years later, you get to the second or third round.

    "You just move up the ladder. We've had guys that have been to the top. We've had guys that have been to the first step. We've had guys in between. We have enough guys that understand the importance in the playoffs of each possession, how to prepare, how important it is to follow a game plan.

    "Another thing about our team, I think we have complete trust in Coach and in our coaching staff. What they tell us to do, as long as we follow it, is going to be the right thing to do. I think we understand that we have to do that at all times. When we buy into that, we're as good as anybody."

    Van Gundy has repeatedly said sticking with game plans when things get tough is a key to the Rockets' chances. They have not had years together to steel their style for whatever might come in the postseason fire. Only Yao, Padgett and Weatherspoon return from last-season's Rockets playoff team, and Weatherspoon and Padgett played a combined 36 minutes in the series against the Los Angeles Lakers.

    Similarly, the Rockets cannot approach this postseason with a retooled team as a chance to build toward future successes. Their individual experiences will have to replace experience together if only because the Rockets probably do not have enough years left together for this season to set up another season.

    The average age of the players on the Rockets' active roster is 31 years, 93 days. In the past 10 seasons, only the Chicago Bulls' last three championship teams were older, each by three months or less.

    "Everybody says you have to lose to win," Van Gundy said. "You have to go through adversity to come back and win, and that's not really true. It's usually the only way teams mature to win. If we do it the normal way, lose to win, we're not going to be successful because a lot of our guys are older.

    "All you have to do is be a mature team. You have to realize the playoffs are not about some new trick, reinventing yourself, surprise element. Do we have a game we trust enough and is good enough against the best? That's what it's going to come down to."


    Turning points
    Advancing in the playoffs, Van Gundy said, can come down to one possession, one moment. Last season, it could have been the defensive rebound that Yao lost to Shaquille O'Neal in Game 1. It could have been the shot Jim Jackson missed, or the defensive rebound that went past Maurice Taylor to Karl Malone in Game 4.

    A roster filled with similar playoff moments would seem to offer all the useful heartache the Rockets might need, or can stand. For now, it serves as impetus.

    "There's definitely a sense of urgency with this team," Sura said. "This might not be the last chance for a lot of us, but this might be our best chance. These opportunities don't come along all the time. It's not going to be easy, but this is a good opportunity for us — the best opportunity most of us have ever had."

    jonathan.feigen@chron.com

    RESOURCES
    ROCKETS' PLAYOFF EXPERIENCE

    Starters
    Player Playoff
    record Deepest round
    played in
    Tracy McGrady 5-13 First round (2000-03)
    Clarence Weatherspoon 10-10 Second round (2000)
    Yao Ming 1-4 First round (2004)
    David Wesley 18-27 Second round (1998, '01)
    Bob Sura 1-6 First round (1996, '98)

    Key reserves

    Dikembe Mutombo 48-50 NBA Finals (2001, '03)
    Scott Padgett 7-17 Second round (2000)
    Ryan Bowen 1-4 First round (2004)
    Mike James 16-7 NBA championship (2004)
    Jon Barry 30-38 Western finals (1998, '03)
     
  2. OddsOn

    OddsOn Contributing Member

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    TOTALLY SWEEET!!! :D
     
  3. adai

    adai Member

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    JVG always looks at the bottle half empty.
     
  4. MrRolo

    MrRolo Contributing Member

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    My heart dropped after reading that.. that's basically what it all came down to.. we were that close. I am real confident about our squad this year. We don't hurt ourselves as much as the prior squads
     

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