While both Tim Duncan and Tracy McGrady have helped their teams to quick starts, McGrady and the Houston Rockets still face a big challenge in front of them to get to the level of Duncan and the defending NBA champion San Antonio Spurs.
The division rivals meet for the first time this season on Tuesday in Houston, as McGrady and the Rockets get a chance to see how their new offense matches up against the veteran Spurs.
The Spurs (3-0) announced Friday that two-time league MVP Duncan had agreed to a contract extension. It has been widely reported that it is a two-year, $40 million extension, and it will keep Duncan in San Antonio through at least the 2011-12 season.
The 31-year-old Duncan, who was the top overall selection by San Antonio in the 1997 draft, has led the Spurs to four NBA titles, including a sweep of the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Finals last year.
The 28-year-old McGrady is still searching for that kind of success, having never won a postseason series. He’s operating under a new coach in Rick Adelman, who vowed to bring a quicker offense to Houston this year in order to compete in a Southwest Division that has been dominated by the Spurs and Dallas Mavericks in recent years.
McGrady, named the Western Conference’s player of the week on Monday, is averaging a league-high 33.3 points per game during Houston’s 3-1 start. He had 35 points on 12-of-31 shooting in the Rockets’ 107-98 loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Monday.
The Rockets and Mavericks exchanged leads for much of the game until Dallas pulled away late in the fourth quarter.
“We’ve got to be smart,” McGrady said. “They did some different things and we weren’t able to adjust. … It’s a learning process. We’ve only been together for about a month.”
Adelman’s offense so far, however, has featured only McGrady and Yao Ming doing most of the scoring. Yao had 21 points and 11 rebounds to join McGrady as the only Rocket in double figures on Monday.
“We have to learn how to beat a good team and get more people involved,” Adelman said.
The same cannot be said for the Spurs, who are looking to extend their best start in seven years.
San Antonio is picking up where it left off last season thanks to the consistent play of Duncan and Tony Parker, who are averaging 18.7 and 17.0 points per game, respectively. The Spurs are also getting quality minutes off the bench from Manu Ginobili, who is averaging 18.7 points.
Duncan had 15 points and 10 rebounds in the Spurs’ 96-80 win over the Sacramento Kings on Friday. San Antonio held the Kings to only 23 points in the first half, and finished with a 50-35 rebounding advantage.
The Spurs led by as many as 29 points, allowing coach Gregg Popovich the opportunity to rest his starters during the fourth quarter. Popovich said he’s still tinkering with his bench rotation.
“I feel very uncomfortable,” he said. “I have no clue on how to sub them.”
San Antonio and Houston split their four meetings last season, with the visiting team winning all of them. The Spurs have won 31 of their last 39 matchups overall against the Rockets, including 14 of the last 18 on the road.