TUESDAY, 11/08/05 – With Tracy McGrady out because of a bruised spine, the Rockets are in big trouble. With all the talent on the team, no one thought they would struggle offensively as much as they have their past two games without T-Mac. The Rockets shot poorly again (37%) and lost to a winless Orlando team 74-71 Tuesday night at home. It probably won’t get much better as Houston embarks on a tough 5-game road trip.
Maybe a repeat of last year’s 5-11 start could happen again this season? Oh well, if the Astros can start off poorly for the second straight year and still make it to the World Series, they there is still hope for the Rockets to get to the Finals.
The first half was a waste for both teams, as Houston led only 39-38 after shooting 40%. By halftime, Yao had made only 4-of-11 shots, but led all Rocket scorers with 10 points. Orlando’s Steve Francis had 15 points by getting into the lane easily on penetrations and pick-and-rolls.
Starting the second half, Juwan Howard got hot by making his first three shots and scoring six of Houston’s whopping 13 points in the quarter. Although he had no fouls in the first, Yao picked up three fouls in the third quarter alone. Ugly. But the Rockets still had a chance to win the game because Orlando wasn’t shooting much better, scoring only 17 in the quarter and holding only a 55-52 game entering the fourth.
Houston managed to scrape out a 71-67 lead with 2:05 remaining, so the question that remained was, “Who is going to step up in crunch time?” Francis, Yao, Rafer Alston, Derek Anderson? Unbelievably, it was struggling Orlando guard Jameer Nelson, who had made only 8-of-24 shots for an average of 6.7 PPG entering Tuesday night’s game.
After Francis penetrated into the lane and drew the defense to him a couple of times, he dished out to Nelson for two consecutive 3-pointers (sandwiching a Derek Anderson turnover) to put the Magic ahead 73-71 with 1:14 remaining.
Subsequently, Alston clanged a three-point attempt, then Nelson drove past Derek Anderson into the lane (where’s the defense?) and put a wild shot off the glass over Yao to score a basket and put Orlando ahead 75-71 with 51 seconds left. You’ve got to give credit to Nelson for making plays when Houston didn’t. The rest of the way, Yao missed a jumper in the lane and Rafer missed an easy layup. Ballgame.
The only encouraging thing for the Rockets was that they made 18-of-19 free throw attempts. But it’s difficult to rely solely on free throws to get W’s.
As far as Yao goes, he made only 2-of-4 shots in the second half and scored 7 points. Although he struggled offensively on 6-of-15 shooting, it’s amazing that with T-Mac out that Yao didn’t take more shot attempts. Blame it on Yao or blame it on his teammates for not getting the ball, that HAS to change if the Rockets are going to score more points.
Nothing against Rafer, but the Rockets made the strategic decision in the off-season to trade point guard Mike James because he was too much of a scorer than a pure passing guard. With T-Mac out, I wonder if the Rockets wish they had kept some of that firepower now that they could really use it?
By the way, in his last game, James scored 17 points on 6-of-10 shooting. Tuesday night, Rafer scored 8 points on 4-of-12 shooting. I’m pulling for you, Rafer.
The Rockets now head to Miami for a Thursday night game against the Shaq-less Heat, and it’s on national TV. So maybe that will inspire Yao to have a monster game. He needs to do it, because so far no one else will is stepping up in crunch time.
To see a boxscore from the game, click here.
To read the Houston Chronicle’s story of the game, click here.