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Rockets grind up Grizzlies to sweep February

March 1st, 2008
by John
Yao Ming talks with Tracy McGrady before the Rockets try to win their 14th game in a row that would give the team an undefeated record for February.  'Mission accomplished' as Houston soundly beat the Grizzlies 116-95.  Earlier in the day, Yao Ming flew to Charlotte, North Carolina to get a second opinion of his injury from another doctor, then returned the same day to cheer his team to victory.Yao Ming talks with Tracy McGrady before the Rockets try to win their 14th game in a row that would give the team an undefeated record for February. ‘Mission accomplished’ as Houston soundly beat the Grizzlies 116-95. Earlier in the day, Yao Ming flew to Charlotte, North Carolina to get a second opinion of his injury from another doctor, then returned the same day to cheer his team to victory. Click here for more photos of Yao before the game.

There’s something about this Houston Rockets team that is unique from many previous editions. For example, there was a time when you had to get nervous about them reaching a milestone (like winning all the games in a month, or lay claim to the longest winning streak in an NBA season), even against a poor team like Memphis. Like most Houston teams (except for a few exceptions), they just couldn’t stand too much prosperity, right?

Not these Rockets. Houston took care of business and put the Memphis Grizzlies away early by exploding with a fast break offense, and clamping down on defense to take leads of 14-0, 20-2, and to lead 37-17 by the end of the first quarter. After that, the Rockets cruised to a 116-95 victory to win their 14th game in a row.

Since the 1991-92 season, only five other NBA teams have won all their games in a month. They also beat Portland’s 13-game winning streak earlier this season. Houston’s victory Friday night positions the Rockets to tie a franchise record of 15 in a row Sunday night against Denver.

The way the Rockets are playing, you’ve got to be as confident as you can be they will deliver on tying that record as well as break the franchise record against Indiana on Wednesday March 5th.

All this success lately makes you take a look back at all the acquisitions and draft picks the Rockets have made to build their current roster, and how almost all of them have turned out as good as could be expected. It would be hard to name one player who has underachieved during this 14-game streak. From Yao to Luis Scola to Carl Landry to Dikembe Mutombo, all the way down to Aaron Brooks and Steve Novak (too numerous to name everyone).

The only rough spot the Rockets encountered against the Grizzlies Friday night occurred in the second quarter when Bobby Jackson and Luther Head were put into the game and started settling for jumps shots, which helped contribute to the Rockets getting outscored 15-6 to cut their lead down to 11 points.

But the Rockets got things going again by the least expected player of them all – Chuck Hayes – when he made 2 free throws (with better shooting form) and then hit a turnaround jump hook in the lane to expand the lead to 15. That would be the start of a 17-9 run to give the Rockets a 60-41 halftime lead. From then on, it was all Rockets as they broke open a 28-point lead in the second half to coast to the victory.

One other preventable moment that occurred with the game still somewhat in question was when Rafer Alston started hot-dogging at the end of the first quarter when he had a clear lane to the basket for a layup on a fast break, but instead opted to throw a very difficult alley-oop pass over a Memphis defender for a dunk. The pass was easily intercepted for a turnover.

Anytime a player starts passing up wide-open layups in the first quarter to try to get on the highlight reel peeves me that he can lose control like that to make the right play. I don’t mind a little showmanship, like when he later threw a beautiful fake pass to open up a lane to the basket for a layup. But to pass up a wide-open LAYUP that everyone in the arena saw is inexcusable.

I won’t go into all the stats in this game since the Rockets dominated in every area, which was to be expected against a team that had lost their last 6 games in a row, 12 of 13, and were playing without their best player, Mike Miller. The big overall Houston stat I’ll mention is their impressive 24 assists on 41 field goals.

I will mention a couple of interesting tidbits, though. First, Carl Landry rocked it again in the fourth quarter, igniting the crowd with 3 amazing, powerful dunks. I can’t think of another rookie power forward in the past (or any PF, for that matter) who has been as explosive as Landry by going over and through defenders for throw-downs.

All of his dunks were incredible, with one coming after he posted up on a much shorter Kyle Lowry, then spinning toward the basket for a one-handed jam. That move made me want to name that dunk, “The Landry spin cycle.” Get it?

It’s gotten to the point now that when Landry enters a game, you can’t wait to see what he’ll do next. On top of all the excitement on Friday, he made all 5 of his shots and all 5 of his free throws for 15 points.

Another tidbit is that Shane Battier picked up the first technical foul in his career after he was pushed in the stomach by the guy he was guarding (can’t remember exactly who it was, but he’s not well-known) and didn’t take kindly to it. He approached him and started jawing at him, and the referee was pretty weak to have called a tech on him. I’ve seen much meaner players get by with worse.

Battier hustled all game long getting back on defense and rejecting at least a couple of shots from behind, finishing with 4 blocks. Battier’s really stepping up in Yao’s absence by helping out in the blocks department, and also looking to take more shots. He finished with 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting, and also grabbed 7 boards.

Dikembe continues to amaze with his length and perfect timing in blocking 4 shots in only 17 minutes, about half the minutes Battier played. Anytime Deke blocks a shot, the crowd reaction is so overwhelming, it’s the equivalent of a slam dunk on offense.

All I have to say is I’m going to savor all the blocks for the rest of the season because I don’t think I’ve ever seen a better shot blocker other than Hakeem. How fortunate Houston is to have had some of the best centers who have ever played the game.

Mutombo also finished with 13 rebounds. As I mentioned in this post a few days ago, I was confident that Mutombo would make up for Yao’s absence on the boards.

Luther Head had a poor game shooting, only hitting 3-of-11 shots from the field, but he did make 7-of-8 free throws to finish with 15 points.

Tracy McGrady finished with the stats you hope to get from him – 25 points on 10-of-18 shooting, 6 rebounds and 6 assists. He made lots of outside shots, which I’m not too crazy about him taking. But I am starting to track the outside shots he misses, and in this game I counted 4.

Some other fourth quarter excitement came when Aaron Brooks, on a fast break, jumped into the air at mid-court, then while suspended in mid-air threw a one-handed pass between two defenders to new Rocket Bobby Jones for a dunk. I knew Brooks could get to the hole quick as lightning, and could score, but didn’t know he could pass like that…and with flair.

One thing I’m going to try to do the rest of the season is point out in these game summaries the areas where I think Yao’s presence could have hurt or help the Rockets. For this game, Yao obviously wasn’t needed since they did just fine without him.

However, the one area where I think he could have made a difference was when Dikembe was out of the game. During that time, the Grizzlies quick and strong point guard Kyle Lowry repeatedly took it to the hole and was a force the Washington Wizards clearly didn’t have in their loss to Houston Tuesday night.

Lowry would finish with 18 points, and I would bet most of the points he scored in the paint came after he blew by Rafer Alston and went up against the Rockets’ smaller front line of Scola and Hayes.

I had mentioned in this same (aforementioned) post a few days ago that without Yao, my main concern on defense is when Dikembe exits the game, the remaining minutes he’s out could be a problem when the Rockets go up against teams with very quick guards who take it strong to the rack…like maybe Allen Iverson on Sunday?

It will be interesting to see if Scola, Hayes and Landry can be a defensive stopper when Dikembe isn’t in the game and Iverson blows by Alston. You might see Aaron Brooks get some time defending AI, like in their previous match-up, since he’s one of the few guys in the league who can keep up with him.

4 Responses to “Rockets grind up Grizzlies to sweep February”

  1. Bernie Says:

    Hey John, first off, thanks for the great work on the blog. Instead of being just a Yao fan, it’s clear that you’re a Rockets fan whose favorite player happens to be Yao and that’s who should be writing this blog.

    That said, as a New Yorker and a lifelong Knicks fan, I had no reason to root for the Rockets until Yao came along, so I started out as “just a Yao fan”. Over the years, though, following every game of his, I inevitably became a Rockets fan too and I’m proud to now call them my #1 team.

    Here’s my conflict – and I know that this scenario is not only thinking way too far ahead but also extremely unlikely, so take it for what it’s worth – what if the Rockets win the championship with Yao out?

    The Rockets fan in me would be thrilled, and Yao would’ve been a big part of getting at least to 36-20… but the biggest thing the world would remember is that Yao didn’t lead them to the ring, or even worse, that the Rockets were better without him. Then the following year, when he’s back, they’d have to repeat, or else that’s even further evidence that Yao’s not championship material.

    Therefore, part of me almost doesn’t want to see ’em win it all, and I know that means I’m not a real Rockets fan… and again, I know this kind of speculation is crazy, but hey what are comments on sports blogs for, right?… but this is what’s eatin’ me.


    Bernie, thanks for the note. I’m glad you have become a Rockets fan through the years after starting out as a Yao fan. I know many other people who have followed the path you have taken.

    I like your question. Very interesting topic. First, I think the chances of the Rockets winning a championship are so remote since the West is so tough, that no one has really commented about these thoughts. However, if by chance the Rockets were to win the championship this season, I think the rallying cry for the Rockets next season would be, “Let’s win one for Yao,” and their chances would be high since the Rockets are still so relatively young. It would remind me of the University of Florida basketball team a couple of years ago when they won their first NCAA championship — they were way “ahead of schedule” in winning a championship, so the following season they were even stronger and experienced to repeat.

    There probably would also be critics out there who would say the Rockets won a championship because something unexpected happened to a front runner, like say Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Steve Nash, etc. got injured, and there would be a semi-asterisk placed next to the Rockets championship. Of course, the Rockets could say Yao Ming was injured, too. If another team’s superstar were to get injured and the Rockets did win the championship this season, then everyone could say that the 2008-09 season could settle all the controversy when every front runner’s superstars are healthy.

    If the Rockets advance in the playoffs this season but don’t win a ring (a more likely scenario than winning it all), then I think things will be positioned perfect for Yao as being the guy who can put them over the top. I even think the players will think that, giving Yao all the respect in the world and making him the guy responsible for getting them a ring next season.

    So all in all, I wouldn’t feel bad if your gut is telling you right now that you should root against them. I don’t think you’ll have anything to worry about this season. However, if they were to advance to the NBA Finals this season, I think the true Rocket fan in you will come out. You’ll see Yao on the bench cheering his team on, providing locker room leadership, and you’ll say, “Hey, Yao really wants this and he has been contributing in other ways, so I want to see his team win it now.” — John

  2. Daniel Says:

    Yao would spit in the face of any fan who said they wanted the Rockets to lose to make him look better. Yao wants the Rockets to win with or without him, and anyone who wants otherwise is pathetic and not really a Yao fan.

    Wow, those are some harsh words. I wouldn’t hold it against anyone. There are alot of complex feelings related to Yao’s injury that I can somewhat understand. For example, I’m a big fan of most athletes who went to the University of Texas (Vince Young, Kevin Durant, T.J. Ford, etc.), and if any of their teams had a good chance to win a championship without them involved, I would feel like they were missing the party since it’s never as sweet as the first time you win a ring.

    Maybe the feeling is not rooting for those teams to lose, but more, “if they lose without Yao, I’m okay with that,” especially in my case when it comes to Vince Young…I hate the Tennessee Titans after their owner pulled them out of Houston when they were the Oilers. So I don’t mind if they lose every game since that increases the chances that Vince can come to his hometown team where he rightly belongs and win a ring. 🙂 — John

  3. David Says:

    Hey John,

    Do you know if Yao is going to have shoulder surgery? I remember reading a while back that he was having problems with one of his shoulder and that he wanted to hold off surgery for it until after the season. Wouldn’t it be wise for him to get surgery on it right now along with his ankle? Thanks, and keep up the GREAT work!

    David, I was thinking the same thing, but the shoulder surgery may take longer to heal than the stress fracture. Not sure, though. I also think it’s problematic to be rehabbing 2 different parts of your body at the same time — it would probably throw his rhythm out of whack too much to be effective in time for the Olympics. So I would think that Yao would either have the surgery after the Olympics, but more likely in the 2009 off-season since he would probably want a full summer to recuperate (starting in May or June) instead of starting in late August after the Olympics are over this year. From what I understand the surgery would be more of a maintenance thing, and his shoulder condition shouldn’t inhibit his play too much over the next year and half or so. — John

  4. Daniel Says:

    I should clarify John. I became a Tennessee fan when the Oilers left Houston, and VY went there it only affirmed my being a fan of them. As a sports fan, and Texas almnus, I like a lot of players, and especially players who come out of UT programs. If the Titans won the Super Bowl without Vince I’d still be happy, and like you I like certain players more than their respective teams. That being said, I never want a team to lose simply because a player I like isn’t in the game. Whether or not he’s on the floor that player is part of that loss. There is any number of reasons to want a team with a player you like to lose(they’re playing a team you like more, playoff implications involving a more favored team, etc), but to want the Rockets to lose to make him look better while he’s not playing is one of the saddest demonstrations of homerism there is. You can bet your shirt that Yao would be unappreciative of his “fans” wanting the Rockets to lose while he’s out, and even if he didn’t say it out loud he’d call them a bunch of pathetic losers.

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