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Rockets prove they’re for real in New Orleans to win 11th straight

February 23rd, 2008
by John
Yao Ming goes after one of his game-high 14 rebounds in a game where the Rockets made a statement by beating the Western Conference leading New Orleans Hornets.  Yao would also finish with 28 points on 12-of-21 shooting as the Rockets on their 11th game in a row.Yao Ming goes after one of his game-high 14 rebounds in a game where the Rockets made a statement by beating the Western Conference leading New Orleans Hornets. Yao would also finish with 28 points on 12-of-21 shooting as the Rockets on their 11th game in a row. Click here for more photos from the game.

I admit that I’m very cautious and conservative when it comes to heaping praise on the Rockets. We have learned from past experience that right when you want to get excited about the idea of the Rockets dominating the league (remember that 6-1 record to start this season?), reality sets in followed by a big letdown.

So during the Rockets’ recent 10-game winning streak, I haven’t been completely convinced the Rockets had proven much since none of their opponents were world-beaters. I would bet many of the players felt the same way. That’s why the Rockets game against the New Orleans Hornets on Friday night was HUGE. If the Rockets lose the game, then we would know we still need to keep our optimism at safeguarded levels.

If they win, then it would be a statement game to the rest of the league, and themselves, that they are for real. And maybe it would give everyone peace of mind that it’s okay to start getting a little crazy. No better place to start a party than in New Orleans, right?

That’s exactly what the Rockets did, dominating the Hornets in their own gym 100-80 to win their 11th straight game. And the way the Rockets did it, I think it gives them even more confidence that maybe they can actually win the whole thing. After all, New Orleans is no slouch. They had a 5-game winning streak of their own coming into the game, and had won 22 of their last 26 by recently beating quality opponents like Dallas, Phoenix, Denver and San Antonio.

The Rockets won in convincing fashion, smothering the Hornets with 40% shooting and holding Chris Paul, who had 31 points against Dallas in his last game, to a manageable 14 points Friday night.

The defense continues to be the thing this team hangs its hat on. As much as we hoped Jeff Van Gundy‘s defense would carry the Rockets far into the playoffs last season, it’s actually this year where we could see that happen sans JVG. Who would have thought that?

However, not all of the national media may be convinced about the Rockets’ D. This is a quote from the Associated Press write-up on the game (they normally are supposed to be very objective):

The Hornets simply had an off night, narrowly missing a slew of shots they would normally make, both inside and from the perimeter.”


On the offensive end, the Rockets came out in the first quarter with Yao taking control, scoring 8 of the Rockets first 10 points. It was clear this wasn’t going to be one of those games where Yao gets flustered by turning the ball over or gets the ball stripped every time he turns with the ball, especially since he was being guarded one-on-one by Tyson Chandler most of the game.

Yao would go on to score 28 points on 12-of-21 shooting and grab 14 boards, 5 on the offensive glass. And he only had 2 turnovers. But get this stat: his plus/minus differential when he was on the floor was a +30! I have never seen one that high!

As great as Yao was, I think Tracy McGrady had one of his best all-around games as a Rocket and represented all that we have hoped McGrady can be. He attacked the rim relentlessly (including a highlight reel tomahawk jam in the first quarter), and when he attempted outside shots, he hit them. Keep attacking McGrady, keep attacking. It all resulted in 34 points on 14-of-26 shooting, 3-of-6 from three-point land, 6 assists, and only 2 turnovers.

It’s like McGrady was energized by the high-profile nature of this game and wanted to be aggressive, like he knows he needs to be in his next playoff series. If this was a precursor of how he’ll play in the next series, in about 2 ½ months we’ll soon forget that he never won a playoff series.

I wonder if McGrady had seen a recording of what Charles Barkley said Thursday night on TNT about how McGrady has been known in the past as a “ball stopper” (meaning the ball stops moving when it gets to him), and so was extra motivated to keep the rock moving – either while in his own possession or getting it to others.

One of my favorite passes from McGrady occurred at the 9:09 mark in the second quarter when he received the ball behind the 3-point line on a semi-fast break, and threw an immediate touch pass to Carl Landry who was cutting to the hole and threw down the McGrady assist for a dunk. That was the Rockets 10th assist on 15 field goals (they would finish with 21 assists on 42 FGs).

As strong of a start the Rockets got in the first quarter to lead 29-24 paced by McGrady’s 10 points and 8 from Yao, they really made their move in the second quarter by holding the Hornets to 3-of-18 shooting, which included a stretch where they went 8 minutes without hitting a field goal.

My favorite possession during that quarter was when a couple of Rockets got the ball behind the 3-point line and were wide open to take shots, but didn’t go crazy by jacking one up, and got the ball down low to Luis Scola for a layup (and a foul) who had a mismatch with Chris Paul guarding him. That kind of patience hadn’t happened much before their current streak.

By halftime, the Rockets held a 16-point lead, 51-35. Although they were playing very well, I actually think they blew a few chances that could have given them an even bigger lead. Knowing the Rockets’ history, you knew they were going to need as many points as possible since you knew the Hornets would make their obligatory third or fourth quarter run.

But the Rockets made up for it by playing one of their finest quarters since, well, the 41-point first quarter they had against Miami the night before. Yao and McGrady were on fire in the third, both hitting 5-of-8 shots on strong moves to pace the Rockets to an 82-56 lead after three quarters.

From that point on, the Rockets coasted. Sure, they turned the ball over 3 straight possessions in the fourth quarter to help the Hornets cut the deficit to 18 points, but the Rockets had built such a large buffer, it was going to be almost impossible to blow this one.

Honorable mentions in this game go to Landry, who was active as always by grabbing 11 boards and scoring 7 points. Watching ESPN SportsCenter after the game, even Bill Walton was raving about Landry and how quickly he has emerged as a force. He’s no longer a Houston-only secret.

Luis Scola also contributed his energy with 9 boards and 8 points on 3-of-7 shooting.

Rafer Alston held his own against CP3 by dishing 11 dimes and scoring 9 points, although he shot 1-of-7 from three-point land and missed a point blank lay-up. The good news is that new Rocket guard Bobby Jackson should be able to help out when Alston’s shooting is struggling like that. Jackson should be able to play on Sunday against the Bulls after passing his physical.

Alston did have one of my favorite plays of the game (in a game where there were many) when he dove to the floor as Chris Paul let the ball roll on the floor so the clock wouldn’t start ticking. Although Alston didn’t come up with the ball, that play represented just how much everyone is hustling to go after loose balls. It’s contagious, and players like Scola and Landry may have been the catalyst to start the trend.

At the end of this season, many observers may look at this win as a pivotal victory that proved the Rockets are a true force to be reckoned with. In the short term, it gets them one game closer to the Hornets in the Western Conference standings and into the fray that consists of Phoenix, the Lakers, San Antonio, Dallas, and Utah.

The Rockets are playing so well right now, you kind of wish they could start the playoffs ASAP rather than play another 27 games where nothing but bad things and loss of momentum can happen.

Okay, enough of the negative thinking. “It’s time” to be very optimistic and think positive thoughts as the Rockets try to win their next five games, all to be played at home and all very winnable. I expect the TV ratings for each of these games in Houston will be sky-high compared to normal. Winning has a way of doing that.

17 Responses to “Rockets prove they’re for real in New Orleans to win 11th straight”

  1. johnl Says:

    YEAH!! next five games for them should be quite easy…..

  2. Jimbu Says:

    Are you sure?! No game is easy! No team is easy! When you think it’s easy – that’s the beginning of “hard.”

  3. YaoMania Says:

    I thought it would be a difficult game, but when the second quarter ended, I found I made a mistake. The last quarter was trash time at all. Keep up good work, Rockets!

  4. Vince Says:

    Pheww… these comment boards sure have quieted down with “trade McGrady, trade T-Mac” rants the last month. I knew Rockets just needed some time to get rolling in this new system. Glad to see the Rockets are back in the woods of the playoff race and not being ridiculed constantly for bad games.

    John, what team would you prefer the Rockets to play in the 1st round since there are many possibilities with so many West teams with close records? What would be the most suitable (“favorable”) match-up for the Rockets to play besides the Suns now that Shaq is there.

    I’m afraid of all the matchups right now. The Suns, Lakers, and Jazz really scare me for obvious reasons. Golden State has always scared me, but they aren’t playing all that well right now (lost last night, not beating anyone convincingly), but I think they will pull it together since they’re so talented. San Antonio is always tough, especially after adding Kurt Thomas. Dallas is always tough, but I think their trading of a big man like Diop is going to be favorable for the Rockets’ front line, and I’m glad Devin Harris’ speed is no longer there to give our point guards fits. So right now I would say Dallas, especially since the Rockets are familiar with them and might want revenge after losing that playoff series 3 years ago, but that could change as other teams suffer injuries or start losing chemistry, which we all know can be fleeting. — John

  5. Allen Says:

    Well, it was always going to take some amount of time for the Rox to settle in with a new coach and new philosophy. People in my opinion simply underestimate the magnitude of changing coaches in basketball, especially coaches who are seriously at opposite ends of the spectrum.

    I disagree with most that the “whole” reason we are killing it now is bc of Adelman playing Scola and Landry and Brooks. For one, Scola’s play has been good, and so has Landry’s, but Brooks has been wildly inconsistent, and in all honesty, most of the nights our pf’s combine for less than 20 pts and 20 boards. Not understating their contribution, but i think it is pretty ridiculous for anyone to say that this whole learning experience and adjustment period has been the result of Adelman not playing Scola or Landry from the get go. That is simply a “hindsight is 20/20” argument. I can still remember Scola not knowing where the hell he was supposed to be earlier in the season.

    The real difference to me is the play of the collective whole. Not only has Tmac’s game started to fit in, but Yao is a rock, Alston is running the show perfectly, getting huge numbers of assists when compared to turnovers, and playing quality defense (even if he is still shooting poorly). Not to mention that Battier is playing a more well rounded game.

    The best part about this streak is the high number of assists that the team is getting. We have been over 20 assists for most of the winning streak, which really speaks to team chemistry.

    I am going to miss Bonzi, but it didn’t really make sense to have him on a team where you have two minute heavy guys in Mac and Battier at his proper positions. That is why he was traded plain and simple. He isn’t as good as Mac, and didn’t bring everything to the table that Battier does.

    That all said, GO ROX!!!!!!!!!!!

  6. GameNight Says:

    Great work again, John. I was waiting for your analysis last night after reading those on chron and nba.com and feeing not satisfied It just feels incomplete without reading your insightful and unique comments after watching each Rockets’ game.
    Rockets will get out of the first round the playoffs!!

    Thanks for the compliment. Before I started this site 5 1/2 years ago, I felt the exact same thing you mentioned: that despite all the stuff that is written about games in papers and discussed on talk radio, I felt there were more insights that were going untold. It’s hard work to find and elaborate on those nuggets, but when I receive compliments like yours, it makes it all worth it. — John

  7. BOBBYNYC Says:

    This is amazing! I give a big up to the GM Morey and a lotta ups to Adleman. He is giving these players a lotta confidence. No more constant nagging and negative remarks like their ex coaches. Another shout out to whomever is coaching Yao the basics this year! He is playing with a lot of confidence now. Last but not least, I give TMAC credit with buying into the system regardless of the constant trade rumors. This is getting a little interesting now….

  8. richard Says:

    let’s go rox, let’s go rox, i am enjoying more and more of rox’s game nowaday. i was ???? a yao ming’s fan for the past couple of years and now i am a yao ming and rox fan…….YEA??????

    Second round of playoffs, watch out…HERE????????????????

  9. Brian Says:

    go rockets!!!

  10. Luckyme Says:

    Woa!! What a convincing and dominating game played by the Rockets. This was a superb team effort. Tmac and Yao were unstoppable; if they continue to play like this, especially the former– we have hope, we have great hope!

  11. Jay Says:

    It is rare that both Tmac and Yao scored more than 50% of their shots. When it happened, the team usually won. I still have my doubt about Tmac’s fragile body(and sometimes his mind), although the Rockets are getting better and seem to start to gel. We will where they stand after March in which they face a few elite teams. I can’t wait to see them playing against NO, the Suns, the Spurs, the Lakers, the Celts, and the Mavs. Until then, I don’t raise my expectation.

  12. Joe Says:

    As much as I love the Rockets and Yao’s recent success, I still have to be extremely conservative in my exhilaration. Just seems like yet another enormous build up till the inevitable disappointment. Especially this year with the West as tough as its ever been, it’s difficult to muster any sort of sincere optimism. (and I’m normally a glass is half full kind of guy!) But when the boy cries wolf a 3’rd and 4’th and ….etc.. time.

    Very good analysis! been reading for a while now.

  13. AirChina23 Says:

    If Tracy can keep this up, I think John should start calling him T-Mac again. Well, of course, after the Rockets achieve huge success in the post season. March is key, if we can keep winning majority of our games in March and April, we will have the momentum built up for playoffs. Bill Walton said the Rockets are one of the six teams that can win it all, and I agree with him.

  14. AR Says:

    I agree that it may be too much optimism from the winning streak. Fundamentally the Rockets have the same old bunch as the season started except for the growth of Scola and Landry. Only when Rockets are pitted against top teams like Lakers, Utah, and Suns and Spurs can we know whether the optimism holds or not.

    Main concerns:

    Who will be Yao’s backup when he is tired in the series? Mutumbo is not going to last. He is getting leaner and leaner for playing exceeding amount of time consecutively.

    Can Rockets with Yao match up with Lakers’s twin-towers: Gausol and Byrum? NO.
    Can Rockets with Yao match up with Kurt Thomas and Tim Duncan? NO.
    Can Rockets match up with Suns’ Amare Stoudmaire and Shaq?
    Can you convince me Rockets is better than Boozer’s Jazz?

    Who is going to be T-Mac’s backup? We used to have Bonzi, now nobody.

    Alston is Alston, could it be a flash in a pan in light of his inconsistency and match up problems with PGs like Deron Williams, Nash or Manu?

    Can T-Mac match up with Kobe?

    Scola is okay. Landry can be getting into Rookie wall at some point, who come to rescue?

    Yes, Rockets is going to make the playoff if the momentum stays, but it is less likely to make it to second-round.

    Do you agree, John?

    Those were alot of questions. There are always going to be questions for any team entering the playoffs regarding player matchups. Regardless of individual matchups, I think basketball success still boils down to playing as a team. Just look at history. Remember 1994-95 when the Rockets were the 6th seed in the West. No one gave them a chance, but they did it. Look at two seasons ago. No one gave the Miami Heat a chance against Dallas because of the Mavericks’ ‘superior’ talent, but they still beat them. If the Rockets continue getting better, they can win it just like anyone else. — John

  15. AR Says:

    A Red Flag, really.

    When I was talking about the concern on Yao’s backup, I need some evidence and perspectives to support.

    How many games did Mutombo actually play during the winning streak or for all games when Yao was healthy?
    And how many minutes?

    It seems to me Yao as well as T-Mac got overdrawn and it is going to be bad for the last stretch of the regular and the games get tougher.

    Even when Yao caught a flu or a stomach, the whole game looked different and difficult.

    John, I like you optimism. But you need to make the case the current Rockets is just as talented as Mavericks two season ago. Nobody dares to equate present Rockets to the 06 Mavericks but you.

    But for now, let’s just enjoy the games.


    What are you talking about? I never compared them to the Mavericks two seasons ago. I compare the Rockets more to the underdog 2006 Heat or the 94-95 Rockets (6th seed). — John

  16. AR Says:

    Forgive my mistaking Mavericks for Heat in previous comment.

    But are these talent equations holding, though doing math looks oversimplified?

    Yao/Mutumble =Shaq/Alonzo Mourning
    T-Mac = Wade
    Alston/Brooks/Bobby J = Jason Williams/Gary Payton/Jason Kapono
    Scola/Landry/Hayes/Battier = James Posey/ Antoine Walker/Udonis Haslem/Derek Anderson

    You are assuming impact players: Yao+T-mac = Shaq+Wade.

    Yes, there is some overhype on chemistry.


  17. RP Says:

    Personally, I tyhink Mutombo can hold his own.
    He’s still blocking shots, he’s still wagging his finger.
    Yao cna play, so can Dikembe.

    He may not be around fro more then 3 years but even at his age he is a defensive powerhouse, we really need that now that the playoffs aer approaching.

    Personaly I think he’s one of the best semi-old players out there.

    What do you think John.

    Absolutely! — John

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