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News » Rockets soft in middle Lack of size to require center by committee ROCKETS: Center a big unknown

Rockets soft in middle Lack of size to require center by committee ROCKETS: Center a big unknown

Rockets soft in middle Lack of size to require center by committee ROCKETS: Center a big unknown For a few minutes, Rockets coach Rick Adelman let the concern show.

He had talked about the challenge of replacing Yao Ming at center, about relying on a group of forwards, none with particularly good size, and a slender Australian center in his first season in the NBA.

He spoke of the ways the Rockets will have to defend, about the advantages they will try to create on the offensive end, the mismatches he and opposing coaches will try to exploit.

As he spoke, however, it was clear that others have done this before, with Don Nelson choosing the style forced on the Rockets as far back as when Rockets assistant coach Jack Sikma was a slick jump shooter with the Bucks in the 1980s.

With that, Adelman struck upon inspiration.

"We're trying to get Jack in better shape," he said.

Adelman was probably joking, but everyone else on Sikma's end of the court at the Rockets practice Wednesday is a possibility.

"Everybody's in the mix as the starting five," Adelman said. "We just don't know. We think Luis (Scola), we're very comfortable with him starting. But I don't know who we're going to start at that five spot. We could change from game to game. Some teams we can get away with playing two fours together, but some of the teams we start (the regular season) with, it's going to be hard to do.

"We really don't know how it's going to work out. You could start Chuck (Hayes) and he gets a couple quick fouls and you have no choice; you're basically playing forwards at that point. David (Andersen) is not a true center; he's a very good offensive player and very, very skilled, but he's got to learn how to play in our league and how he's going to defend people inside. So it's just a question I don't have an answer for right now."

Little bit of this and that

Few are likely to do for the Rockets what Sikma did for the Bucks or the SuperSonics before them. The Rockets , however, will try to make up for their lack of size with some combination of Hayes' defense and tenacity, Pops Mensah-Bonsu's and Joey Dorsey's athleticism and quickness, and Andersen's and Brian Cook's shooting touch.

There are, however, ways to at least try to counter size. For years, the Rockets saw teams try to answer Yao and Dikembe Mutombo with shooting range.

"It can work," Cook said. "We have to definitely play small ball this year. Against bigger guys, we have an advantage with our shooting to take them outside. Usually (against) guys that aren't that quick, we can use our quickness. We're going to have to be scrappy, take charges, do all the little things right. We have the guys to do that. We just have to get a little dirty and protect the paint the best we can."

In another option long favored by Yao's opponents, when not shooting over opposing 7-footers, the Rockets can try to outrun them with Dorsey and Mensah-Bonsu.

"If you look at the ways teams played against Yao, undersized big men used to give Yao problems with their quickness," Dorsey said. "Coach is trying to add that in, with our up-tempo game and fast and athletic centers. Then you switch around and put in David, who can shoot the ball."

The Rockets will be far from the only team playing power forwards at center, with few teams relying on true centers. They will see plenty of 7-footers in the first week of the preseason (against San Antonio, Boston and Orlando) and first week of the regular season (against Portland twice and the Lakers) to get an idea if their mix will work.

Defensive dilemma

"There's been many situations where they have a power forward playing the five spot," Mensah-Bonsu said. "We can do it. There is a lot of big fives out there, especially in the West. Where they create matchup problems for us, we create matchup problems for those slower fives."

Adelman, for all his concerns, believed the Rockets will be able to find ways to challenge opposing centers on the offensive end. Defensively, however, he could not predict how well the Rockets will defend when Hayes is not on the floor, and particularly how much double-team help he will have to devote to defending the low post.

"It's a unique experience," he said. "I've always had big people on the team. We just don't have that right now."

Author: Fox Sports
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Added: October 2, 2009


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