From middling to monsters in four weeks. With 12 straight wins after squashing the Bulls on Sunday (Houston has also won 10 in a row on the road), the Rockets are stalking the NBA's elite. The secret: a little defense, a lot of confidence and Yao (above). The mad-rebounding center's on target to play his first full season in three years.
He was snubbed for the NBA AllStar Game, but don't cry for him, Argentineans. The Bahía Blanca native and Spurs guard had averaged 34.4 points over five games through Sunday. (San Antonio won 'em all.) Still, he's humble. "I got lucky there," he said after his late jumper beat the T-Wolves.
From idle times to idol ways: After playing just a handful of matches this year—he got bounced in the third round of the Aussie Open—Roddick easily won the SAP Open. Was he happy? His unusual (all right, bizarre) victory dance says yes.
With Jason Kidd gone (page 28) and prized import Devin Harris nursing a bad ankle, the Nets' point guarding duties fell to the 22-year-old former UConn star. The return: 25 points in his first game as a starter, 13 assists in his third. Coach Lawrence Frank: "He has a very big upside."
From mediocre to god-awful in five weeks. A 3--13 run sank Charlotte to near-Knicks level. They got no help at the trade deadline; double-digit losses are becoming a habit; and for guard Raymond Felton (above) and his mates things are getting worse: Leading scorer Gerald Wallace is out indefinitely with a concussion.
The newly acquired Phillies closer thought that he'd left his right knee problems in Houston (he had surgery in October), but his spring training hit a snag: After catching a spike on the mound, Lidge had to go back under the knife. Will he be ready in time for Opening Day? "That will be based on how it feels," he said.
Year by year the school's hoops glory recedes before it. The men, losers of four straight, are 4--10 in the Big East, and coach Norm Roberts is under fire. No relief on the women's side—a 4--9 Big East team from which six players were banned for violating team policy.
Disappearing into the Green Monster, listening to tunes in the outfield, the do-rag ... all endearing Mannyisms. But now the Red Sox' slugger, a $20 million-a-year man, has hired cutthroat agent Scott Boras ahead of his impending free agency—a move that won't win him any new fans.
SI PLAYERS NBA POLL
Who has been the league's best rookie?
Kevin Durant, Sonics G 81%
Al Horford, Hawks C 10%
Juan Carlos Navarro, Grizzlies G 3%
Jeff Green, Sonics F 2%
Yi Jianlian, Bucks F 2%
Players couldn't vote for a teammate.... Durant's average of 19.2 points through Sunday was by far the highest among rookies; he also led in steals and minutes.... Horford (page 20) was averaging a rookie-best 9.8 rebounds, including 20 in one game; his 12 double doubles were eight more than any other rookie; and Atlanta could make its first postseason since 1998--99.
[Based on a survey of 242 NBA players] • For more on the poll, and to comment on it, go to SI.com/players.
GREG NELSON (MING)
GREG NELSON (GINOBILI)
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH (FELTON)
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH (DURANT)
TOMASSO DE ROSA/US PRESSWIRE (LIDGE)
DAMIAN STROHMEYER (RAMIREZ)
SCOTT CUNNINGHAM/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (HORFORD)