Friday, November 16, 2007 column from 11/16/07

10 Reasons to Tune In to Rockets-Spurs
By Eric Musselman

Friday, Nov. 16 on ESPN: Rockets at Spurs, 8 p.m. ET

Eric Musselman, former coach of the Sacramento Kings, caught up with to preview the Spurs-Rockets game. The game will be in San Antonio on Friday Nov. 16 and can be seen on ESPN (8:00 pm ET). Musselman discusses 10 reasons why you must tune in to the matchup:

1) Star power, minus 1

Before T-Mac got injured with a strained elbow against the Lakers, you had three of the premier players in the league in McGrady, Yao, and Duncan competing in this game, which is the main reason for wanting to tune in. Not only do you have them, but Tony Parker is an All-Star. Add in the fact that these two teams have won in the past and have championship aspirations this year and it makes for a compelling matchup even without McGrady.

2) A potential litmus test for the Rockets in a playoff-type atmosphere

The NBA season is long and one game in November isn’t going to have a huge effect on the playoffs, but if you can win a series during the regular season (the Rockets have already beaten the Spurs once this year), it gives you a slight mental edge heading into a playoff series. Also, I think anytime you play a marquee team or when two marquee teams play, the level of intensity rises. Players get up for the game. There is more buzz in the arenas. The fans can feel it. And you get that anytime a game is nationally televised, let alone when it is two good teams like these two.

"Yao puts his stamp on the game much more now than he did three years ago," said Musselman.

3) Spurs rebounding

The Spurs can’t rely on just Duncan to be the primary rebounder. It has to be a collective effort. Thus far Ginobili has done a good job in his minutes on the boards (4.9 RPG), and he and the Spurs’ guards will have to be active in keeping Bonzi Wells and Shane Battier off the glass, but they need Fabricio Oberto and Francisco Elson to have big rebounding nights. Their main role is to rebound and defend since they’re not primary scorers.

4) The three is key

Both teams’ rosters have been assembled with the understanding that opposing teams are going to double their superstar. As a result, both teams have very good perimeter three-point shooting. Much like Yao and T-Mac’s presence opens up things for Battier, Mike James, Luther Head and Rafer Alston, Tim Duncan’s post work allows open looks for Brent Barry and Bruce Bowen. Whichever team gets, and knocks down, more open looks from three-point land will be key.

5) The T-Mac factor (what the Rockets will be missing)

Coach Adelman’s philosophy right now is to get McGrady and Yao the bulk of the shot attempts which is smart because they are his two best scorers. Then it’s up to the other players to figure out their niche in the offense and when they’re open. Sometimes what you would consider a questionable shot with any normal player isn’t really a bad shot for a guy like McGrady because of his unique ability to score in such a variety of ways.

The other thing to keep in mind when a guy like McGrady takes a high volume of shots, usually that correlates into a high volume of free throw attempts because he has that ability to score off the foul line, not just the three-point line and field goals. Will the Rockets be able to replace those trips to the free throw stripe?

6) Yao vs. Duncan

Both guys can score the ball and they both change the game defensively because of their length. I don’t know how much they’ll guard each other in the individual head to head, but there will be times where they wind up matched against each other.

Duncan does a good job when he plays against any big of pulling them away from the basket because he has improved so much as that mid-range shooter and he’s so good at beating bigger guys that don’t have the mobility he has off the dribble. Remember, though, that Yao outscored Duncan 28 to 14 in their first meeting.

7) The development of Yao

Yao puts his stamp on the game much more now than he did three years ago, and I think a lot of it has to do with comfort level. Obviously bigs develop at a different rate than other players. Then you add that he is a big from another country who spoke a different language and I just think that his development overall is amazing. He makes face-up shots, he has an excellent turnaround jumpshot which is impossible to block, and now he is more forceful in finishing down low.

Yao has been more physical. He understands that the lower and wider he gets, the more space it creates. He is a force and you have to have multiple big bodies because he ends up either putting you in the double team situation or he puts your bigs in foul trouble. If you’re thin up front and don’t have fouls to give, he really hurts you.

The one thing that stands out this year is that everyone has always known he was a good passer, but now in Coach Adelman’s system, he’s really proven to people how great a passer he is in the new offensive set they’re running.

Rick’s teams have always been good up-tempo teams that flow very smoothly from full court transition into their half court. He does a great job of utilizing his bigs as passers, of convincing them to play away from the basket. With Webber, Divac and now Yao, there is beauty in that system. People were very curious to see how he would fit into a high post type of offense. He has done great in it and he’s going to get better and better.

"He’s willing to play physical basketball, but yet he’s also a finesse scorer," said Musselman.

8) The incomparable Manu Ginobili

As an opposing coach he is a nightmare to prepare for because he can make the three, he can create his own shot, he goes to the cup with reckless abandon and he’s really clever with the dribble. He has a unique between-the-legs crossover that you don’t see from many people playing basketball. It’s actually a move that I’ve been teaching to some AAU teams that I’ve been working with. He is willing to take body blows, he’s willing to play physical basketball, but yet he’s also a finesse scorer.

What I like about him is he’s playing only 28 minutes a night and his contribution level is what a normal excellent player would give you in 35 minutes. That is the thing that I take from him. He plays his minutes to the fullest. There are no possessions off. That is what every coach wants his player to try to do; accept the role and really play your minutes. He does that as well as anybody in the NBA.

I also think that his decision to forego playing with Argentina over the summer was a smart one. When you are a team that plays deep into the playoffs every year like the Spurs, resting your body and mind is just as important as working out. It’s a long grind and obviously it’s paying dividends for him early in the season.

9) Pick and roll perfection from the Spurs

They’re really good at running into pick and rolls. They will get the ball from one side of the floor to the second side to the third side and then they just randomly run into pick and rolls during the course of any of their offensive sets.

10) Houston’s new look offense

As mentioned, the high post offense where Yao is featured as a passer as well as a scorer is a favorite for Houston. They also do a great job of running McGrady into middle pick and rolls, though with T-Mac out you won’t see much of that. Finally, they do a phenomenal job of running split action where two perimeter players will screen for each other, leading to a lot of easy basket cuts.

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Eric Musselman was head coach of the Sacramento Kings in the 2006-07 season. Prior to signing on as the 20th head coach in Kings’ franchise history, Musselman spent the two seasons prior as an assistant coach for the Memphis Grizzlies under Mike Fratello.

A young, energetic coach with a proven track record, Musselman has been successful on various levels throughout his coaching career. He was named head coach of the Golden State Warriors on July 6, 2002 at the ripe age of 37, making him the youngest head coach in the NBA at the time.

Prior to joining the Warriors, Musselman worked as an assistant coach for the Atlanta Hawks (2000-02) under Lon Kruger and as an assistant coach for the Orlando Magic (1998-00) under Chuck Daly and Doc Rivers. His first NBA coaching experience came as an assistant coach for the Minnesota Timberwolves (1990-91) on the staff of his late father, Bill Musselman.

Musselman appears courtesy of the National Basketball Coaches Association