MANILA, Philippines – You know, they say karma is a five-letter-word that I can’t spell out since this is an article for the public to read.
After all, there are kids out there who, right now, are falling in love with the game of hoops. Little boys – and girls – who believe that the game of basketball is just as simple as putting a round, orange piece of leather inside a ring. That simple.
Yet, as they grow up – like we all did – they’ll eventually learn about the other things that are just as important as how their favorite player performs in the big stage. They’ll understand how critical it is for their favorite team’s GM to make the trades that matter during the offseason. They’ll realize how even the most minor of free agent singings matter when a squad’s starting five needs ammo from the bench come the critical stretches of games. They’ll realize the little things count, too, such as shifting your team’s defense to zone, man-to-man, or icing the ballhandler in pick-and-roll situations.
But most of all, these young kids will grow up one day and realize that, sometimes, in a game as excruciating as basketball, injuries can be that five-letter-word that I still can’t spell out since this is an article for the public to read.
And unfortunately for Houston Rockets fans around the world, the injury bug just hit them pretty darn bad.
Look, every year in the NBA Playoffs, there’s always going to be that one team nobody wants to play, despite what their standing is.
In 2011, no one wanted to play Memphis in the first round because everyone knew they were clicking at the right time for the postseason grind. And the San Antonio Spurs, for as powerful as they looked during their impressive regular season run, suffered the Grizzlies’ wrath, as they became one of the few teams, as a No. 1 seed, to fall to a No. 8 seed.
In 2012, no one wanted a piece of that old, damaged Celtics roster, despite the fact that they looked nothing like a title contender as the regular season came to a close. What happened after they flipped the switch? They brought Miami – the would-be eventual champions – to seven hellish games, including one where LeBron James needed to provide the performance of his life in order to get rid of the so-called old and washed-up Cs.
In 2013, the Indiana Pacers, for all the playoff experience – or lack thereof – many said they were missing, showed the world that the Heat were just like any other franchise in the association – a club that also had its own share of vulnerabilities.
And that’s why Adrian Wojnarowski’s most recent report is so disheartening. The Rockets were supposed to be that club that “no one wants to face” this postseason. One of the reasons for that designation is Patrick Beverley, who is averaging 9.9 points from the guard position.
Beverley may not be that guy that jumps out of your television screen unless you’re a die-hard basketball aficionado, but his loss – if it’s a long-term issue, and most reports say it is – is going to be devastating for Houston.
I don’t blame Oklahoma City fans for smirking a little bit, though an injury is something I do not wish upon any human being. But after watching Russell Westbrook fall to a torn meniscus in the first round of what could have been a championship run, I don’t blame them for not feeling entirely sorry for Beverley and the Rockets.
It was nearly a year ago when Beverley collided with Westbrook in Game 2 of that playoff series. Who knows what could have happened had Russ stayed healthy? Would OKC, and not San Antonio, been the team to challenge the Heat in the Finals?
Now it’s Patrick’s turn to go through the grueling process of healing a torn meniscus. And while he’s doing just that, the Rockets may have lost a golden opportunity that doesn’t present itself to NBA teams all the time.
(RELATED: Pacers, Rockets have proven worthy of preseason hype)
Beverley, an undrafted free agent who was once cut by the Heat, isn’t the guy who’ll put up 50 on the scoreboard or make Sportscenter’s Top 10 highlights of the day on a weekly basis. But he’ll do the little things that every championship-aspiring club needs to win a title. He’s the type of guy who’ll guard Chris Paul 94 feet and not miss a beat; he’s the type of guy who’ll run through a variety of screens just to make sure Steph Curry doesn’t get a clean look from rainbow-territory; he’s the type of guy who you can’t leave wide open from three, because he will make you pay if you do.
But most of all, he’s the type of guy who will get in a defender’s face and say, “Hey, punk, you wanna go? Let’s go!” just when you thought you could bully the Rockets into submission.
Erik Spoelstra often says Chris Bosh, not LeBron James or Dwyane Wade, is the most important piece in Miami’s championship puzzle. Well, would it be far-fetched to declare the same sentiment for Pat Bev?
Don’t believe me? Well, let me bring up a statistic to prove my point.
According to 82games.com, whenever Beverley is on the floor, Houston’s Net48 rating (which shows the average +/- net points over a full game when the player is on the court) is 8.2. That means the Rockets outscore their opponents by a little over eight points whenever this guy who once went undrafted is playing.
Don’t get me wrong, he’s no James Harden, he’s not going to be a dominant presence in the post like Dwight Howard, and he might not even be the determining X-factor of the team – a designation that belongs to Chandler Parsons. But without Beverley, it will be tough for the Rockets to take on the best of the West, which is quite a deep and talented list of challengers.
Jeremy Lin, who will take over starting duties at the point guard slot, is unquestionably more blockbuster than the guy he’s replacing. But Lin’s strength, like Kevin McHale’s other starters, is offense. And for a team that’s already as bad on defense as Houston is, losing their best perimeter defender, glue guy, and the heart and soul of the squad is a blow I’m not sure they can recover from.
If the NBA Playoffs were to start today, the teams representing the West would be San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Los Angeles, Houston, Portland, Golden State, Memphis, and Phoenix.
Outside of Houston, look at those teams, and then take a peek at each club’s point guard. That’s Tony Parker, Westbrook, Paul, Damian Lillard, Curry, Mike Conley, and Goran Dragic.
All-Star caliber playmarkers. That’s what you’re looking at.
I don’t know about you, but I’d prefer Beverley aim to contain those guys rather than putting my chips on Lin, and praying to God he manages to stop them.
Most of all, though, I just feel bad. The record books remember the MVPs and sometimes even the great coaches who led their teams to the title. But so often, the guys who do the small things are left unnoticed. I hate the fact that I won’t be able to watch Beverley try to shut down Paul by guarding him the moment he touches the ball on every possession. I hate the fact that I won’t get to see Beverley rampage through screens, trying to stop Curry from shooting threes. I hate the fact I won’t get to see Beverley bring his rough play, as he aims to shut down the flamboyant Tony Parker. I hate the fact that I won’t get to see the continuation of the Westbrook-Beverley saga this April or May.
But most of all, I hate the fact that those kids I talked about earlier won’t get to see that being a champion is more than being the guy who holds the ball and hits the big shots at the end of games, because the game is more than just being the poster boy.
I hate the fact that they won’t get to see what a guy like Beverley can bring to the table – incredible will, unrelenting perseverance, and old-school, hard-nosed defense – and how much the little things can play such a humongous role in a basketball contest.
Injuries really are a five-letter-word that I can’t type here. – Rappler.com
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