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Rockets let Nuggets steal one

January 21st, 2007
by John

About a month ago when the Denver-Phoenix game was postponed because of a blizzard (an NBA rarity), I said to myself, “Great. That means the Rockets won’t face Carmelo Anthony after all when he comes back from his 15-game suspension. Chalk that up as a sure win.”

Well, the Rockets blew a golden chance to get a fairly easy one against the Nuggets without their MVP candidate Saturday night in Houston.

This game really makes me mad. The Rockets had an 8-point lead against the Nuggets with 2:49 remaining in the fourth quarter, and still blew it to lose in OT, 121-113.

Sure, the Rockets’ defense was bad as you’ll read in this Houston Chronicle story. But at least they were ahead against an average team and were on the cusp of putting them away in the fourth quarter.

With 1:23 remaining, the Rockets led 108-105, had the ball, and basically could have put the game out of reach when Rafer Alston zipped a pass to Tracy McGrady cutting to the basket for an easy reverse layup – but T-Mac blew the shot!

That miss cost them dearly. It gave the window the Nuggets were looking for. Allen Iverson made them pay with a three-pointer the other way to tie the game. Then Alston felt like he had to be a hero and take another ill-advised shot, which he missed (of course), ultimately sending the game to OT where the Nuggets pulled away for a shocking ‘W.’

The glaring weakness in the Rockets’ offense was Alston, who missed 13-of-18 shots (didn’t he score 29 the other day?), took stupid shots down the stretch, and had easy passes go through his hands for turnovers (4 overall). This guy’s inconsistency is driving me nuts. And why is a point guard taking 18 shots?

Meanwhile, Iverson scored 36 and only had 3 turnovers.

On the bright side, the Rockets other role players played very well offensively. Bonzi Wells played superb, hitting 5-of-9 shots for 12 points. Juwan Howard was 8-of-13 with 21 points. Shane Battier was solid with 14 points on 5-of-9 shooting. And Luther Head was 6-of-14 with 15 points.

Meanwhile, T-Mac was just so-so, making 9-of-25 shots for 24 points. On a night when he wasn’t shooting well, at least he was a playmaker with 10 assists.

That’s what is so gut-wrenching about this game. Except for Alston, most of the guys shot pretty well and the Rockets had this one in the bag. They even had a 13-point with 10:30 remaining.

But bad defense (Nuggets hit 15-of-29 three-pointers) and poor shooting suddenly has put Houston one game behind the Lakers in the 6th playoff spot in the Western Conference playoff seeds.

This game reminded me of those games last year when they couldn’t close out close games. Now the Rockets have lost three in a row, and they play the Spurs in San Antonio on Wednesday. You know the Spurs will be looking for payback when the Rockets beat them pretty bad last time in their own gym. Games like this one against Denver (19-17 record coming in) should be automatic W’s.