The Rockets took care of business Wednesday night like everyone they thought they would, winning a franchise record 16th straight game and their 20th victory in 21 games. I’m going to resist the temptation to use the over-used “Sweet 16” phrase that every media outlet seemed to use and fans who brought signs into Toyota Center. It’s just too easy.
As monumental as the 117-99 victory was against Indiana, I’m not going to spend too much time talking about this particular game because:
* A much bigger game against Dallas is being played Thursday night, so I’ll save my energy for that one (more thoughts about that game at the bottom of this post).
* Wednesday’s victory was against a 24-36 team that has been missing Jermaine O’Neal for 6 weeks and had lost 6 of their last 9 games, all against Eastern Conference teams
With the streak, though, it’s kind of fun to watch what the national media is saying about the Rockets. Below are some screenshots from the home pages of ESPN.com and NBA.com late Wednesday night. I especially like the one with the banner ad with Yao looking over Hakeem and Tracy McGrady. Kind of symbolic, huh?
Wednesday night ESPN Sportscenter devoted a significant amount of time talking about the Rockets and showing highlights from the victory over the Pacers that represent why they are playing so well, like this quote as they showed the Rockets passing the ball around for an easy score:
“This is what they do. They share,” and “Everyone on the Rockets gets involved.” ESPN even pointed out this interesting factoid from the game: 8 different players had an assist in the first half. Thanks for showing the Rockets some love, ESPN.
The Pacers made a game of it at first by focusing more on offense than D. But they paid for it by letting the Rockets score 34 first quarter points.
The score was tied at 36-36 early in the second quarter before the Rockets went on a 15-0 run to open up a 51-36 lead. Toyota Center was rockin’ during that stretch as their offensive attack resembled something akin to the ’86 run-and-gun Rockets, and the fans rewarded them with a cascade of applause as the lead grew.
The Rockets would open up a 23-point lead near the end of the first half, but the Pacers would cut the deficit down to 8 points in the third quarter after going on a 21-6 run as the Rockets defense slacked off and they started missing shots. However, the Rockets turned it on again and opened up a 25-point lead to coast to a victory.
After the game, Pacers coach Jim O’ Brien had the following quote about the Rockets:
“They are a really good basketball team and we didn’t have it…They are a better basketball team by a large margin.”
Tracy McGrady continues to play at an extremely high level, leading all scorers Wednesday night with 25 points on 10-of-22 shooting, including 4-of-9 three-pointers.
Luis Scola was incredible in the third quarter, scoring all 13 of his points in the third quarter.
You can’t complain about Rafer Alston, who scored 21 points on 9-of-15 shooting, 7 assists, and 1 turnover. A lot of people are stepping up to make this win streak happen, but without Alston hitting some big shots, who knows if they could have won all of them.
Luther Head hit all 5 of his shots to score 14, and Carl Landry was 5-of-10 for 13 points.
Even Chuck Hayes made a contribution on offense, hitting 4-of-8 shots around the rim to score 9 points, as well as grabbing 11 boards.
As ESPN noted, the impressive part of the attack continues to be the ball movement. 30 assists on 47 field goals Wednesday night, and 49.5% shooting.
The only guys who had off nights were Shane Battier, who was 1-for-6 from 3-point land and scored 7 points. And Bobby Jackson was 2-for-11, including a missed layup, and is starting to show why the Hornets probably were willing to give up on him.
Jackson was hitting only 39% of his shots this season with the Hornets up until he was traded to Houston. With the Rockets in his last 4 games he is 6-for-28 from the field (21.4%). Uh-oh. Not a good sign.
Why are they so much better on offense this year?
Moving away from the details of the victory over Indiana, I was thinking that the Rockets’ success of sharing the ball has been MORE of the key to great shooting, not because a few players have been abnormally streaky, like what I had been thinking Rafer Alston has become. I hope I’m right because if he goes cold, it could spell some trouble.
The wonderful thing is that the Rockets’ penchant to share the ball is much more SUSTAINABLE than just relying on a couple of guys to stay hot. And chances are that not everyone who shoots well is going to go cold at the same time. Since so many players have been involved in the rotation, they’re getting shots and making them, then someone is always ready to come in if the guys in the game start struggling.
All of this success lately has also made me start thinking why the same players who played under Jeff Van Gundy are all of a sudden scoring so much this season compared to under JVG? Was JVG really that bad of an offensive coach?
Absolutely, and almost everyone knew it at the time. Just look at how well Battier, McGrady and Alston and Luther are shooting this season. I think another reason is that Rick Adelman‘s system breeds confidence among talented players by telling them that it’s okay to take open shots and not “sweat it” if they miss. And once a teammate sees other teammates getting hot, it becomes infectious. I think Alston is the epitome of a player who has gained confidence because of this new system, along with a lot of hard work after understanding he was going to have to score in Adelman’s system in order to get playing time.
And although Adelman isn’t the most enthusiastic guy, he’s light years ahead of JVG when it comes to optimism. I’m a realist and I like it when a coach says what he thinks, but I also think all that negativity that JVG brought to the team affected their confidence when it came to shooting. To shoot well, I believe it helps if you have confidence that your coach believes in you.
I’d really like to hear what some of Leslie Alexander‘s critics (like a newspaper columnist who doesn’t cover the Rockets) are saying now after complaining in the off-season that JVG got screwed, and that there was “no basketball reason” for him to be fired. They obviously didn’t know what they were talking about when you look at what Adelman has been able to do.
Thoughts about Rockets-Mavs
I have a really good feeling about the Dallas game on Thursday night. The Mavericks will be without Dirk Nowitzki because of his 1-game suspension for taking down Utah’s Andrei Kirilenko the other night.
Without Dirk, I don’t think the Mavericks chances are all that great against the very hot and confident Rockets. After all, the Mavs are 5-5 in their last 10 games and are obviously trying to figure it all out with Jason Kidd in the mix. If the Rockets come in focused and are mindful of that 40-point blowout in Game 7 in 2005, then I think they will their 17th in a row.