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Grizzlies-Rockets Preview


Grizzlies-Rockets Preview
Another strong season for the Houston Rockets resulted in yet another bitter playoff disappointment in 2007-08. The controversial addition of Ron Artest may give them their best chance yet to snap out of that familiar pattern.

Artest makes his Houston debut as the Rockets begin their quest for their first postseason success in more than a decade on Wednesday night by hosting the rebuilding Memphis Grizzlies in each team's season opener.

Houston suffered its sixth consecutive first-round exit from the playoffs last spring, and still hasn't won a playoff series since advancing to the Western Conference finals in 1997.

The Rockets' latest postseason failure overshadowed their surprising regular season, during which they put together the second-longest win streak in NBA history at 22 games and finished 55-27 despite losing Yao Ming to a stress fracture in his left foot in February and missing Tracy McGrady for much of the season because of nagging injuries.

With Yao and McGrady getting healthy again and Artest on board, the Rockets hope to take the next step this season.

"I've been waiting for this for a while," said the 29-year-old McGrady, limited to 66 games last season because of elbow, knee and shoulder problems. "I know I get criticized for not leading my team out of the playoffs, but it's hard when you don't have those pieces to elevate you to that next level. Now I have that. We'll see what happens."

Artest brings more than his share of baggage. He's perhaps best known for his role in the brawl with fans at The Palace of Auburn Hills during a game early in 2004-05. He was suspended for the remainder of that season, a total of 73 games - the league's harshest punishment ever for a fight.

Artest, a 6-foot-7, 246-pound forward who averaged 20.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.3 steals for Sacramento last season, has also been arrested for domestic abuse and had a dog seized from his California home because it was malnourished.

He insists, however, that he's not going to be making any more trouble with the Rockets.

"I'll be ready," he said after the trade was made official in August. "Whatever (coach Rick Adelman) needs me to do, come off the bench, be the sixth or seventh man, start, I don't even care. Whatever he needs me to do, I'm 100 percent sure it's going to work."

Artest could be particularly integral for the Rockets with McGrady's status for Wednesday still uncertain. The two-time league scoring champ revealed at the start of training camp that his left shoulder was arthritic and will require surgery after this season. McGrady also said his left knee was healing slower than expected from surgery in the spring.

"I'm gaining confidence," he said Tuesday. "I've been through three straight practices, grinding it out. A game is going to be a little bit different. Hopefully, it's all positive, because I want to get out there with the guys."

Meanwhile, Yao has proclaimed himself 100 percent healthy and will start against Southwest Division rival Memphis, which has finished in last place in the division with a 22-60 record each of the last two seasons.

The Grizzlies, though, have higher hopes for 2008-09 thanks to a wealth of young talent led by Rudy Gay. The 6-foot-9 swingman emerged as a star last season, joining Cleveland's LeBron James as the only players in the league to average at least 20.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.0 blocks and 1.0 steals.

Gay was limited to 12.8 points and 36.7 percent shooting from the field as Memphis dropped three of four meetings with Houston last season.

He will be joined by rookie guard O.J. Mayo, who's making the leap to the NBA after one season at Southern California. The No. 3 overall pick impressed second-year coach Marc Iavaroni with his preseason performance.

"He has displayed the character and quality you need in a great player and potentially a great leader," Iavaroni said.

"He's willing to work hard, he's willing to be coachable, he's willing to fight through adversity, he's willing to fight through inconsistency whether he's getting 28 points one night or eight the next. He's shown a real resilience that's going to be real important to him, especially at this point of his career."

Iavaroni's club was 0-2 at the Toyota Center last season, extending its losing streak there to four games dating to a 93-81 victory April 15, 2006.


Author: Fox Sports
Author's Website: http://www.foxsports.com
Added: October 29, 2008

 

 
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