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Q&A with The Dream Shake

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hou.gifAll week Steve, our NBA blogger, and I are doing a series of Q&A sessions with bloggers from the Celtics' upcoming opponents.  Dave and Lee from The Dream Shake, and I traded some thoughts about the matchup.  If you haven't checked out The Dream Shake , definitely spend a few minutes over there, Dave and Lee do a bang up job and obviously have been blessed with a memorable season.  - Green17

Green17:  Give us a feel for the Rockets this year.  What have been the top three themes or moments of the season thus far, and where do you think the Rockets will end up in the Western Conference?  Feel free to provide projections of the playoffs if that's helpful.

The Dream Shake (TDS): As for today (with a 21 game winning streak still intact), it's been a rather epic season.  In November, the Rockets begin the season 6-1, we start the blog, and the Rockets promptly drop 6 games in a row.  Rafer couldn't shoot.  Shane Battier couldn't shoot.  Steve Francis and Mike James were still getting more run than Aaron Brooks or Carl Landry.  Scola was only playing 15 minutes a game while Chuck Hayes got the bulk.  So theme 1 would be "disappointment" because the Rockets were picked by many to possibly win 60 games (Hollinger), and then promptly stumbled out of the gate.

Theme 2 would probably be "A New Hope" (yes, I'm aping from Star Wars).  T-Mac got his yearly injury, but this forced Adelman to experiment.  Next thing you know, Luis Scola, Aaron Brooks, Carl Landry and even Steve Novak become key contributors for a team that is now under the radar, but is also beginning to win consistently.  Remember, these guys put together a decent-sized winning streak in early January before the Streak we are talking about now.

Theme 3 would be "Resiliency."  The Rockets were on a 12 game winning streak and starting to get national attention.  Next thing you know, Yao Ming is out for the season and "experts" everywhere are declaring the Rockets' playoff chances dead (yes, I'm looking at you, STEPHEN A. SMITH!).  As we know now - these experts were wrong.  The Rockets learned from the early season adversity and became an actual team.  T-Mac is no longer the selfish gunner - he's a leader.  Rafer learned how to be only slightly erratic with his shooting and "Luis Landry" turned what was once a weakness (power forward) into a position of strength.

As of today the Rockets are #1 in the West and on a 21 game streak.  We beat Charlotte, but now we need to survive the gauntlet of Los Angeles, Boston, New Orleans, Golden State and Phoenix - all over the course of seven days.  The NBA schedule maker is evil.  My dream is that we get a re-match against Utah at some point in the playoffs and we stomp the Jazz.  Because I hate the Jazz.  So very, very much.

Green17:  Break down the streak for those of us not watching on a nightly basis.  The Rockets have basically been killing teams over this stretch run.  How are they doing it?
 
TDS: Damn you, Marvin Williams!!  If not for "the man better known for somehow being picked before CP3 and Deron," the Rockets would be on an eleven game streak of winning games by at least 10 points.  That would be a record.  As it is we still technically have that record, but I never properly learned how to share, so I wanted it all to ourselves.

Of course, Lee and I are not surprised by the Streak.  We kinda predicted it.  Really.  

We initially thought it would "merely" be 10 games.  Then we beat New Orleans and the prediction was quickly modified to "16."

Back to the point at issue though.  How are the Rockets doing it?  Nothing short of a tenacious work ethic.  T-Mac isn't the Kobe-esque scoring machine anymore.  We aren't going to run teams off the court like the pre-Shaq Suns.  We work you to death.  At some point our opponents get sick of Scola, Battier, Hayes, Landry and Dikembe being right in their chest.  We want to win more than you and we're going to grind it out if we have to.  Lately, teams are wilting into submission as early as the second quarter.  The Rockets then play lock-down defense and next thing you know -- we have a 20 point lead.  That's what makes the recent Atlanta game so beautiful.  We couldn't do anything right.  Except play defense.  So we played even harder at that end and just wore the Hawks' young players out.  End result?  Another victory.Read More...

Green17:  What is the biggest weakness for this team?  As an outsider simply looking at the roster I can think of two: Skip to My Lou is not really up to the caliber of Western points and two rookies are playing increasingly important roles now that Yao is out.  What's the real analysis?

TDS: Apparently I'm supposed to be nice to Rafer from now on, so I'll leave him out of it.  Am I scared of a potential "Rafer v. Deron" matchup in early May?  Absolutely, but I'm more confident than I was a year ago in that matchup.

As for weaknesses, we have one major one, and one very subtle but just as important one.  First, we have this monkey on our back.  So long as McGrady is the team leader, the media is going to question the Rockets' ability to win in the playoffs.  It's a fair question - and each playoff loss only adds to the pressure.  In May, pressure can be a very bad thing for a young team.  I'm not worried about the rookies though.  Luis Scola has a gold freakin' medal.  LeBron, Kobe and Dwyane Wade can't say that.  Carl Landry is happy to just be healthy and able to contribute.  Aaron Brooks is now 3rd string PG, so he won't be asked to do too much.
 
The other weakness that scares the hell out of me is our free throw shooting.  Yes, I know that Duncan and Shaq are horrible free throw shooters, but they also shoot in such volume that they make up for it that way.  The Rockets have a couple of good free throw shooters, but the majority of the team struggles mightily at the line.  T-Mac especially.  And I still have not forgotten that performance against the Detroit Pistons earlier this year... something like 6-for-22 for the entire game.  It was horrendous.  And scary.

A close playoff game might require the Rockets to be solid FT shooters.  Meanwhile our best FT shooter is 7'6" and not playing until next October.  That is not good.

Green17:  When your team goes on a streak like the Rockets have, what does it feel like as a fan?  Last year the Celtics had a streak of their own, except the exact opposite of what the Rockets have done.  I remember feeling beaten up, even posting YouTube clips of Frank Costanza shouting "Serenity Now" on Celticsblog.  I would imagine you guys must feel like you can walk through walls. 

TDS: Considering that the word "awesome" has appeared in about 100 consecutive posts written by me, I'd say the feeling right now is super-freakin'-awesome!  Lee and I have been die-hard Rockets fans forever.  I've had parents of some of my friends be geniunely concerned for my well-being when the Rockets don't play well.  This is the complete opposite.  I haven't felt this proud of the Rockets since the 1995 team overcame the #6 seed to win the whole thing.  The best part is that this roster comprises 15 guys that I genuinely like and want to root for.  Okay, maybe not Rafer all the time, but 14 out of 15 is a pretty good ratio!

Green17:  Despite the winning streak, the Rockets are barely visible on the national NBA radar.  There is little momentum for McGrady in the MVP voting, Scola and Landry have a minor buzz for rookie of the year, I can't think of a single reference to Adelman for Coach of the Year and Morey is hardly mentioned for GM of the Year.  Why is this?  Feel free to use this question as a launch point for an anti-Lakers rant as they seemingly suck up all the spotlight in the Western Conference.
 
TDS: I think I saw the first mention for Adelman as Coach of the Year on Wednesday in ESPN's Daily Dime.  They even mentioned him as the "favorite" now - which was stunning.  Scola didn't start until early February (which, oh by the way, directly coincides with this 21-GAME WINNING STREAK!  Yes, I like saying "21 game winning streak" a lot.)  Scola has no idea what it's like to be on the losing end of a game as a starting PF in the NBA.  But because he doesn't score 20 points a game, or get 10 rebounds a game or play 35 minutes a game, I'm not surprised that he's not exactly the favorite to be ROY.  That said - David Thorpe on ESPN.com has Scola as the #1 rookie on his rankings this week.  Carl Landry is #7.

I wrote a post this week about how Morey should be Exec of the Year.  He's like a genius or something .

As for McGrady - well, 21 games does not make for a whole season.  And McGrady did not exactly buy into the Adelman system until the middle of January.  During that time, Kobe, LeBron and CP3 were killing the rest of the league most every night.  So I find no fault in McGrady being overlooked for MVP.  I have Kobe as my MVP at this point right now.  Lee still prefers Chris Paul.

I'm quite sure McGrady would trade any and all mentions for individual awards in exchange for a few playoff series victories though.

Go Rockets!

The guys also had a few questions for me.....

The Dream Shake: Given that a year ago the Celtics were openly tanking for the worst record in the league (and a shot at Oden/Durant) but this year are now competing for the best record in the NBA... how has the popular opinion about Doc Rivers changed?  And how much of a badass is Kevin Garnett?  (is Garnett in the same level of popularity as Tom Brady or David Ortiz?) follow-up:  Doc Rivers is still your head coach?  Really?
 
G17: Openly tanking...I'm offended.  Answering in order, people really don't talk about Doc as much any more.  Last year it was Doc this or Doc that, but this year there have really only been a few instances where Nurse, Doc's bad coach alter-ego, came out in full force and had a meaningful impact on a game. Unfortunately, the most recent instance of this was Friday night when Doc bizarrely kept Rondo and Perkins on the bench well into the fourth quarter, when it appeared to most Celtics fans that Eddie House and Big Baby just weren't getting it done against Utah.  

Kevin Garnett is an off-the-charts badass.  He has an ability to motivate that is unreal. Players, coaches, staff and especially the fans have all raised their intensity levels this year due to KG. 
 
As a non-resident of Boston, I had to go out for help on your next question ranking popularity of Boston sports stars.  Donoghus, one of our forums moderators had this to say: " The average Boston sports fan loves KG but I don't see him at the same level as a Brady or Ortiz.  Those two are on such a high pedestal that I feel it'll take a title and clutch play by KG in the playoffs to even breath the same air as those two right now.  However, his stock has risen considerably since the beginning of the year.  People are taking a lot more notice of KG now."

And lastly, yes Doc is still our head coach.  To be fair to Danny Ainge, it would have been very hard to fire Doc after last year with what he was given and the injuries.  Anyway, let's not talk about this anymore.  

TDS: On a scale of 1-to-10, how much does Danny Ainge want to sign himself to a veteran's minimum contract and un-retire so that he can play with KG, Pierce and Ray Allen?  (I say a solid "7")
 
G17: If I knew of a way to do it, I'd just send you pic direclty, but see image 8 from this gallery for your answer. 

Unfortunately, even in jeans and dress shoes Danny could probably still take Scal.  But yeah, 1986/87 Danny Ainge would be fantastic on this team. 

TDS: How do you see the Eastern Conference playoffs playing out?
 
G17: I think its really all about the top four seeds.  Toronto could make things interesting versus the Cavs, but I can't imagine that powers that be would let the playoffs go without LBJ making it out of the first round.  The national NBA media seems to forget that the Magic are actually pretty good, and will be a tough out in the 2nd round.  All that being said, I think we're destined for a Celtics / Pistons Eastern Conference Finals, which will be a war.  I think the Celtics match up well, particularly Big Baby Davis who has destroyed the Pistons this year (I love BBD).  In the end, I'm going with the obvious and picking the Celts to make it to the Finals.

TDS: Does the green jersey make Sam Cassell look more or less like E.T.?

G17: Sam is the popular choice for E.T. look-a-likes, but don't sleep on Rajon.  Especially when you see how freakishly long his fingers are

Is this a good thing that both of the Celtics point guards look like an alien.  I say yes.  Who doesn't love E.T.?  He makes inter-galactic communication devices out of speak and spells and can make your bike fly.  In my book, that's awesome, and those are intangibles that don't show up in a box score.  Hopefully those qualities will rub off on Sammy and Rondo. 

TDS: With the Red Sox recently winning a championship and the Patriots finishing 18-1, how much does the city care about the Celtics right now?  Are they a solid 1, 2 or 3 in the pecking order?  My gut says Red Sox 1, Celtics 2 and Pats 3, but I’m not there so I have no real insight (I assume the Revolution are not even on the same radar).
 
G17: Well if I were to answer this for you my answer would be 1. Celtics, 2. Giants, 3. Mets, so back to Donoghus to finish this up.

"As amazing as it sounds, I still get the sense that this team is flying under the radar with a bunch of people around here.  You listen to WEEI or read the two major papers and a lot of the talk is still on the Pats offseason or Red Sox spring training.  Mirabelli's release was getting a lot of press the other day.  The guy's a backup catcher.  I'm not sure if people are taking a "wait and see" approach with this team until they reach the playoffs or what but the city is NOT Celtic crazy right now.  Best comparison I can make right now is that its a lot like the 2001 Patriots where people were happy they were winning during the season but weren't convinced that it was going to result in anything as dramatic as winning the title.  Almost as if its a "let's see where this ride takes us, we're not quite sure what we have here" mentality. 

The pecking order is still 1) Red Sox, 2) Patriots and, 3) Celtics.  Last year, fans pretty much had the C's and Bruins at the same level however the attendance illustrated that the C's were the more popular brand.  This season, the Celtics have clearly pulled down the 3 spot and I happen to think that once the playoffs roll around, you'll see real excitement and attention on this team. Even if they win a title, I think it'd be hard to crack Top 2 just due to the multiple titles that the Sox & Pats have won this decade and the C's would still be viewed as the up and comer.  It would take as stable and long term run of success along with some stumbles by the Sox/Pats for the Celtics to jump either of them."
 

Thanks again Dave and Lee from The Dream Shake for the Q&A, it was fun.  Enjoy the game.