The Houston Astros are getting all of the attention in H-Town these days, and deservedly so. With no question, I’m getting into it as much as anyone. In fact, I was lucky enough to attend last week’s classic 18-inning thriller where the Astros came back from a 6-1 deficit to beat the Braves in one of the most amazing come-from-behind baseball playoff games in history. And then this weekend, I have a ticket to the National League Championship Series games in Houston between the Astros and St. Louis Cardinals. So I definitely have AstroMania.
As a result, it would have been very tempting for me to blow off doing a report for the Rockets-Spurs game on Saturday night. After all, it was a preseason game that didn’t mean anything, and it’s hard to concentrate on anything else other than the Astros after their victory over the Cardinals at electric Minute Maid Park on Saturday afternoon.
But when I started watching the Rockets-Spurs game on television after coming down from my Astronomical high, I quickly was able to change gears and snap into a basketball mindset. It was much easier to get into after the Rockets game after they came back from an early 9-2 deficit, started playing well, and continued the good play for a third straight game. By the end of the game, the Rockets played well enough to win 95-87 in San Antonio’s SBC Center.
Unfortunately, Yao did not play because his big left toenail fell off, so the Rockets were cautious and wanted to rest him for a game (that’s why there is no photo of Yao from this game). I can only imagine how much more impressive the Rockets would have been if Yao had been in the lineup. Dikembe Mutombo started in his place, and as always, he was more than adequate. Mutombo grabbed 11 rebounds, scored 7 points and blocked 3 shots in 29 minutes of play.
But Deke wasn’t alone on the front line. We finally got a glimpse of new power forward Stromile Swift, who was held out of the first two preseason games because of a bruised arm. What a debut it was!
In the first half, Stromile scored on a couple of strong moves to the basket, like a dunk from an assist down low, and a whirling-dirvish move on Tim Duncan to score on a powerful move to the rack. He also had a nice, soft jumper that hit the rim and bounced through the basket for a score. Nice shooter’s bounce! No way did I think he would score 11 points in the first half of his first game as a Rocket. I thought he would need more time to get accustomed to his new teammates. Stromile finished with 15 points overall on 6-of-10 shooting. I love those high field goal shooting percentages!
Stromile also had 2-3 very impressive blocks that quickly make you realize that the Rockets front-line defense is going to be even more intimidating this year. We should start thinking right now of a new nickname for Yao, Stromile, and Dikembe, and how difficult it will be for opposing offenses to score on them. Any ideas?
Let’s not forget about the other Rockets’ power forward, Juwan Howard. He shot 4-of-8 from the field, reliably hitting those 10-12 foot jump shots. I love the balance he provides to Stromile’s force down low.
The guards continued to play well. In 24 minutes, Derek Anderson scored 13 points (3-of-8 shooting), had 4 assists and 2 steals. Luther Head had 6 points (two consecutive three-pointers when the Rockets only led 74-71) and 3 assists. Moochie Norris continued to play well. Although he only scored 4 points in 22 minutes (1-for-1 shooting from the field), his job was to dole out assists, and that he did with 5 dimes. He also had 2 steals.
New point guard Rafer Alston did not play. That wasn’t that big of a deal, but what was a problem was David Wesley struggling from the field. He was 1-for-7 in this game, and I remember seeing several miserable box scores like that last year from Wesley. With the depth of guards the Rockets have this year, I can tell you one thing. If they can play defense to coach Jeff Van Gundy‘s satisfaction, I don’t think there will be as much leeway for guards who struggle, because there will be someone on the bench who is very talented to take their place.
T-Mac was T-Mac, playing the game like it was mid-season, driving to the hole and scoring on an array of shots, and scoring their first 11 points. In 18 minutes, he finished with 21 points on 7-of-11 shooting, had 3 assists, but then had to leave the after a painful knee to the mid-section from a driving Sharrod Ford. Crumbling to the floor and later sent to the locker room, T-Mac was in extreme pain. But the Rockets said he should be okay.
The Rockets’ energy, deficiency, proficiency to move the ball around, and T-Mac’s shot-making gave the Rockets a nice lead throughout the game. The Spurs made it close in the second half, but the Rockets didn’t collapse and made plays when they had to make them.
I won’t even go into detail on how individual Spurs players performed since the game was meaningless. I’ll save some of that for the regular season. But it must be pointed out that the Rockets are now 3-0 in preseason, and the Spurs are 0-4. I know it’s only preseason, but with the newfound athleticism the Rockets get with Stromile, Derek Anderson, Luther Head, Rafer Alston, combined with franchise players Yao and T-Mac, one phrase that is usually associated with Houston applies to the World Champs this year…
“San Antonio, you have a problem.”
To see the boxscore of the game, click here.