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Bucks Better than Rockets?
    2007-11-29 11:46:41     China Daily

Milwaukee Bucks Yi Jianlian (L) of China and Houston Rockets' Yao Ming (R) battle for position in the fourth quarter of their NBA basketball game November 9, 2007. The Rockets beat the Bucks 104-88. [Photo: Chinadaily/Agencies]

By Luke T. Johnson

We spend a lot of time in this space focusing on the exploits of individuals. But lost in our scrutiny of Yao Ming and Yi Jianlian are the ultimately more important performances of their respective teams. After all, teams win championships, and while individuals are part of what makes the NBA irresistible, the teams are what matter most.

One of the most surprising developments of this young NBA season, in terms Yi and Yao, is the fact that, on paper, the once-lowly Bucks appear to be a better team than the mighty Rockets, at least according to some of the latest power rankings. Power ranking looks beyond simple standings to gauge how teams compare with the rest of the league week-to-week. It is a highly subjective exercise and hardly matters at all in the grand scheme. Still, power rankings are a fun way to see how teams are doing.

Any schmuck with a whiff of basketball knowledge can throw together a power ranking, but obviously some analysts' rankings command more respect than others. One of the more respected power-rankers is John Schuhmann of nba.com. His rankings are conducted quasi-scientifically, taking into account teams' overall records, the strength of schedules and other factors.

The first thing Bucks' fans might notice in Schuhmann's rankings this week is Milwaukee's rapid ascent into the top 10, up eight spots to No 7 from last week's No 15 and leapfrogging the Rockets, who dropped from No 11 to No 12. The two teams faced opposite fates the past couple of weeks: Milwaukee won five in a row, including big wins over tough teams like the Cavs and Mavs, while Houston was mired in a six-game losing streak, which it finally snapped against Denver. If someone had suggested during the preseason that the Bucks would be leading their division (as they were until yesterday) or that Houston would be struggling for a playoff spot, he'd have been mocked.

Of course, just as quickly as a team can ascend the power rankings, it can come crashing back to reality, as the Bucks did in a listless loss at home yesterday to pitiful Philadelphia, ranked No 27 out of 30. Some may say the Bucks are playing out of their league this year, but anchored by Yi's strong defense, they clearly have a shot at making the playoffs.

The Rockets hit a rough stretch without Tracy McGrady. But now he's healthy and Yao and friends seem to be back on track. But unlike the Bucks out East, where any team with a pulse can make the playoffs, nothing is guaranteed for the Rockets in the West. With little use for power rankings in such a stacked conference, Houston's eyes need to be fixed on the real standings to stand any chance at all.



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