Yao made the trip to Atlanta to join his teammates on their short 2-game road trip to Atlanta and Orlando. He jokingly said it was because he wanted the “road trip per diem,” but it was really to learn some of the new plays they have put into their playbook the past 8 weeks while he has been injured, and to get used to the pace of being on the road again and the intensity of the crowd, among other reasons. (You can check out a more extensive interview of Yao’s progress by reading this earlier blog post).
Yao practiced before the game and later worked out during the game itself. He said he hopes to be ready to play in a week to 10 days, although he admits he won’t be medically cleared to play until after that. You can read more about his thoughts on returning iback to the lineup in this short Houston Chronicle article.
Regarding the game that was played while Yao worked out, you would have thought the 21-33 Atlanta Hawks were the Phoenix Suns Friday night.
Houston’s league-leading defense couldn’t stop the league’s worst-shooting and lowest scoring offense in a 105-99 loss. The Hawks seemed to score at will most of the game, shooting 47.4% for the game. They gave up 19 second-chance points, second only to the 22 they gave up against Denver in another devastating defeat earlier this season.
When you see performances like this, it makes you think the success the Rockets have experienced without Yao playing could be a house of cards that could come tumbling down at any moment.
The game was fairly close all night long, and the Rockets had a chance to build a lead in the fourth quarter that probably would have been insurmountable for a young team that hasn’t “learned to win” yet, as they say. But the Rockets missed 5 free throws in the pivotal fourth quarter, with Bonzi Wells and T-Mac missing two FTs each. As bad as the defense was, those missed free throws were the a big ifference maker. Maddening.
Atlanta is clearly more athletic than the Rockets, with high-flyers like Joe Johnson, Marvin Williams, Josh Smith, and Josh Childress. When Houston doesn’t play good defense, like getting burned by Johnson multiple times coming around screens for open shots, or Chuck Hayes slacking off and not blocking out Johnson on the boards to prevent a follow-up dunk, that’s inexcusable.
The Rockets now go to Orlando and play a team that’s better than Atlanta. The Magic are 27-29 and have Dwight Howard, who is athletic and sure to wreak havoc on the boards against Houston. Howard is not only the Magic’s leading rebounder (12 per game), but also leads the team in scoring (18 ppg), field goal percentage (59.9%), and blocks (1.8 per game).
Let’s hope there is no ‘magic in the Rockets’ cards’ Sunday afternoon, and they can keep their house from crashing down against an inferior team