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Some thoughts after Saturday night’s loss, and outlook for the rest of the season

December 17th, 2007
by John

Because of travel and other commitments over the weekend, I was finally able to watch Saturday night’s game against Dallas. We all know most of the Rockets had a tough time hitting shots, which is par for the course in this season of underachievement. But there are many other problems with this team. The biggest thing that stood out to me during Saturday night’s game was the poor play of Steve Francis, who started in place of the injured 0-fer Alston.

Francis not only missed 7-of-8 shots and turned the ball over 5 times, but it was the way he turned them over. There were a couple of possessions where he either dribbled it out of bounds, or it was easily stolen, like by Dallas’ Devin Harris.

Even Francis had to admit how poorly he played, when he said the following:

“Yeah, it was really tough. For me, it was really embarrassing coming back playing and having five turnovers. The timing for myself wasn’t very good and it kind of snowballs when your point guard turns the ball over. That’s really going to hurt your team.”

Hey, if a player swallows his pride and ego and admits he was awful like Francis did, then you won’t see me piling on. That’s what I call taking responsibility. You’ve got to have hope that since he realizes it was an embarrassing performance, he has a chance to work back from it. That’s the kind of guy you really want to pull for, and shows his increased level of maturity compared to his first go-round with the Rockets.

One other thing Francis will have to work on, though. His defense was terrible, too, leaving his man Harris wide open for at least 3 jumpers that were daggers. It was a flashback to when Francis was here the first time around when he took all kinds of foolish risks, or just wasn’t thinking, and it became he couldn’t lead this team to the Promised land as the “Franchise.”

Man, how the once-mighty have fallen. If Francis can’t get back to being a serviceable player, then luckily the Rockets were smart and signed him to a low-dollar deal, minimizing their risk significantly. It was definitely worth the risk this off-season to sign him and see if he could become a contributing 6th or 7th man.

When the Rockets traded Francis, they got a better scorer and assist man in Tracy McGrady, but it’s become very evident that McGrady isn’t at the level of a Nash, Kobe, LeBron, or Dwyane who can will his team deep into the playoffs.

As bad as everyone was during Saturday’s game, Yao was the Rock. He hasn’t been that steadying force all the time this season, but he rose above the mediocrity around him and showed he can be that guy this franchise can rebuild itself around…again. If the Rockets keep playing like they are, then you might see a few deals this season to get some of the older players out and acquire players with a bigger upside, similar to what the Houston Astros are doing down the street from Toyota Center at Minute Maid Park.

On the bright side, Shane Battier showed signs of life by hitting 3-of-5 three pointers and scoring 12 points. But he was 1-of-5 from within the 3-point line, including a very easy layup that he missed without anyone contesting it. The Rockets cannot afford to miss easy chip shots like that when they struggle to score on every other possession.

If the Rockets can get double-digit points from Battier each night like they did last year, as well as from their starting point guard and two reserves (Bonzi, Scola, or James), then they will win lots of games, just like they did at the start of the season. On average, you know Yao and McGrady will get their points. It may not be 50 or 60 points a game between both of them, but if it’s 45 points collectively, I’d be happy with that if the Rockets can get more balanced scoring among 7 or 8 players.

I’ve got to think Aaron Brooks can score 10 or more points easily just with his speed in getting to the rack. And remember, he’s probably their best 3-point shooter. So don’t be shocked once the rookie starts playing for him to shock alot of people. But it won’t shock me. I’ll just be shocked if Rick Idle-man doesn’t start giving him significant minutes in the next couple of games.

One wildcard player I’ll be watching is Kirk Snyder. He has the speed and athleticism to get into the lane. He was 2-for-2 from the field for 5 points in six minutes. I do give a little bit of credit to Adelman for playing him some. Wouldn’t it be a great story if Snyder rises from the ashes after being a blip on the radar screen once the final roster was announced after training camp? It would be similar to the Luther Head story last year when no one gave him credit during training camp last season, and he turned out to be a nice surprise.

Alot has been said lately about how Rafer may not be that bad of a player, after all, since the Rockets are struggling without him in the line-up because of his groin injury, to the point where they are overvaluing his impact, like how he gets them into their sets. But I have to give major credit to Houston announcer Clyde Drexler for one of the most astute observations I have heard him say. Clyde’s not my favorite announcer in the world, but he showed he played the game for many years when he said the following about Rafer’s game:

“He does a good job of getting them into his sets, but that’s not a hard job.”

Bravo Clyde! Remember people, we can’t lower our standards to the point where we’re just happy about a guy who can wait for guys to get into position on the court. If we just settle for that from our point guard, the next thing you’ll know, we’ll be saying ecstatically, “Boy, he does a great job getting the ball up across the half court line to avoid that 8-second penalty.”

I think I have reached the point where I’m no longer in denial that the Rockets are a mediocre team, and have accepted them for what they are. That’s why you may not hear me rant as much as I have been doing so far this season.

So instead, I’m going to start a new mantra that you’ll probably hear me say the rest of the season: I will be happy if the Rockets are just the 8th seed in the playoffs IF they focus more on balanced scoring rather than McGrady trying to score 25 to 30 points each.

Everything they do until the end of the season should be about developing a balanced offense (no duh), but also to get their athletic un-sung players like Brooks, Scola and Snyder more experience. Remember what Golden State did last season as the 8th seed in the playoffs. The Rockets need to reset their expectations that they won’t be a juggernaut like San Antonio or Phoenix, but instead realize they just need to be dangerous like the Warriors were last season, and see where that takes them. If they can be half as exciting as the Warriors are to watch this season, I will be very happy about that heading into next season. Just look at what Golden State is doing now.