The Rockets are winning so many different ways these days. Either through balanced scoring, one guy taking over (like McGrady’s 41 Saturday night), or when the shooting isn’t spectacular, using smothering defense to win without the fireworks.
The Rockets ‘only’ shot 46% from the field Monday night, but their defense was incredible against the New Jersey Nets, who only scored 28 points in the first half on 16% shooting and trailed by 18 points at halftime.
The Nets would cut the deficit to 14 points in the third quarter, but the Rockets turned up the intensity and led by 27 before playing the rest of the game with second- and third- team guys, coasting to a 91-73 victory and winning their 19th in a row. It was also their 10th in a row by double-digits, tying an NBA record.
It’s incredible that the 5 Net starters of Richard Jefferson, Vince Carter, Nenad Krstic, Devin Harris and Josh Boone scored only 41 points for the game. I guess they haven’t been watching much video of Mount Mutombo lately.
Dikembe Mutombo played a big part in the Rockets’ stifling defense, blocking 5 shots as the Nets continually tried to attack the basket while he was in the game.
With the relatively easy victory, luckily Tracy McGrady got a break from the 48 minutes he played against New Orleans on Saturday and only logged 29 minutes. That was refreshing to see because if McGrady had to start playing tons of minutes with Carl Landry out (he should be back in action on Wednesday), then I would start getting worried.
McGrady would finish with 19 points on a modest 6-of-14 shooting. He also had 4 assists and 4 rebounds.
Both Luis Scola and Rafer Alston finished with 12 points on 5-of-11 shooting. And Shane Battier finished with 9 points on 3-of-8 shooting, with all 3 field goals being three-pointers from behind the arc.
In comparison to other games, Steve Novak got lots of playing time (18 minutes) and scored 11 points, including 3-of-4 three-pointers. For a guy who doesn’t play much, Novak remains deadly accurate.
Although he didn’t score any points, Chuck Hayes grabbed 10 boards.
The game was so well in hand, even guys on 10-day contracts like Mike Harris (20 minutes, 6 points) and Justin Williams (6 minutes, 3 points) got playing time, with Harris starting his time in the second quarter with the Rockets ahead only 22-17.
Too bad for Williams that he made only 1-of-4 free throws. If that poor FT shooting continues, don’t look for Williams to get signed to another 10-day contract.
Because the Rockets cruised to an easy win, there is really not much of a “Yao effect” to discuss here other than I think the Rockets would have shot for a higher percentage, and would have put the game away even sooner. I think Dikembe filled in admirably on defense to off-set Yao’s absence on offense.
Now the Rockets head to Atlanta to try to get win #20 in a row on Wednesday. If they win that game, they tie the NBA record for the second-longest winning streak in league history and then come home Friday to play the Charlotte Bobcats to try to get the #2 record by themselves. That’s really all I ask since winning 33 in a row to tie the Lakers’ all-time record is virtually impossible.
But first they have to get past Atlanta. The Hawks scare me because they are so young and athletic. They were also the team that stopped one of the Rockets’ 15-game winning streaks back in the 1993-94 season. I remember that game vaguely ending in bogus fashion, so hopefully these Rockets can get some payback against that franchise for ruining my day 14 years ago.
By the way, it’s looking good for the Rockets to have Carl Landry back for that game. His knee was assessed as being “structurally sound” by a specialist on Monday, and hopefully the swelling will have gone down by game time on Wednesday.
You probably noticed this write-up is a little shorter than normal. Part of the reason is because the Rockets won so handily, and another is because I have a lot of work-related things going on. Rest assured there is no way I’m taking this winning streak for granted. I’ll definitely be writing more Wednesday night after the Atlanta game since it’s a road game and my schedule is more free that night.
I’m also going to try to force myself to “spread out” my observations after each game over a couple of days rather than doing one long post the night of a game. I learned when I was the last person to leave Toyota Center Saturday night that I should not feel compelled to write everything in my head directly after the game, no matter how fired up I may be to do it. Maybe that way I’ll be able to get more sleep than I’ve been getting lately with all these wins making my adrenaline pump so hard.
But before I end this post, I just have to say this…the Rockets are playing so well, the weakest link on their payroll has to be their TV color commentator (I will be kind and not name him specifically), who adds absolutely no value. Can we please get Matt Bullard courtside for home games once and for all? If that were to happen, then everything while watching the Rockets play on TV would be as close to perfection as you could get.