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Rockets a dud in Denver

April 14th, 2008
by John

Losing 111-94 Sunday night in Denver, it’s unbelievable how badly the Rockets stunk in such a big game. With San Antonio’s loss against the Lakers Sunday afternoon, did anyone tell the Rockets they were only 1 game behind the Lakers, and with a win could be only ½ game behind LA for first in the West?

It certainly didn’t look like it. They laid an egg in one of their biggest games of the season (at least if you consider getting the first seed in the conference a big deal, which the Rockets obviously didn’t). Their performance in such a big game reminded me of that 40-point blowout against the Dallas Mavericks in Game 7 of their playoff series 3 seasons ago.

Maybe there is some legitimacy after all behind the notion that all the other Western Conference teams want to match up against the Rockets in the first round of the playoffs.

This was a disgrace of a performance. If the Rockets are going to play this way in such a big game, you can just about predict what the outcome will be in a 7-game series against any other team in this year’s playoffs.


It just didn’t seem the Rockets took this game seriously. Shane Battier was held out of his second straight game to rest his bruised foot. But get this: I read that Shane would have played Friday night against the Suns if it had been a playoff game. Maybe the same thing would apply for Bobby Jackson, too, who rested a knee he tweaked against the Suns. I’ve seen players play in big games with worse ailments.

If these guys were held out of the game against the Nuggets for precautionary measures — but they could have played in a playoff game — then what was this game with a chance to win the West? Chopped liver?

All I’m saying is if you’ve got a chance to win an entire conference and homecourt all the way up until the NBA Finals, you go with everyone you’ve got unless they’re in crutches like Yao.

With the Rockets blowing this game, they are going to have to go “all out” (literally) to get homecourt against the Utah Jazz in a series that now seems inevitable. I wrote last night that maybe the Rockets were thinking in the back of their mind that playing the Jazz might be the best match-up for them in the first round. But I didn’t want to believe they would start that subtle jockeying for position now against Denver.

All kinds of problems were created with Battier and Jackson’s absence in the lineup. Luther Head started in place of Battier, and the drop-off in defensive intensity killed them as J.R. Smith abused the Rockets in the first half with 18 points.

Head made up for it a little bit by scoring 19 points on 6-of-12 shooting, but 9 of those points came during the fourth quarter, which was basically garbage time. Where Head also hurt the Rockets was with his ball-handling, or lack thereof. I have no idea why Rick Adelman still allows him to handle the ball as much as he does, because it has been obvious for a couple of seasons it’s not his forte. Head turned the ball over 3 times in this game, but it seemed like much more.

I was going to write something about Head last night, but ran out of time. But I’ll say it right now. Luther Head will be playing for his job during this year’s playoffs. For being a third year guy, his shooting has been a little too inconsistent. I really like Luther, but there are just too many other players out there (either free agents or rookies) who can bring more to the table as the Rockets’ backup shooting guard job next season. I’m hoping he plays well during the playoffs, because he disappeared in last year’s series against the Jazz. If that happens again, then it will be time for Rockets’ management to take a serious look at upgrading that position.

Back to the Denver game….so Battier and Jackson’s absence forced Head to be something he’s not: a backup point guard and a defensive stopper against J.R. Smith. Those factors forced Adelman to play seldom-used Mike Harris, not a guy you want to be playing big minutes in your biggest game of the season. Harris would score 8 points on 4-of-6 shooting, but he tied Luther with a game-high 3 turnovers.

With Rafer Alston sucking from the field in the first half hitting only 1-of-6 shots, you would have thought Aaron Brooks would have played more while the Rockets still had a chance. But AB didn’t play at all in the first quarter, took only 1 shot in the second, and another shot in the third (he missed both shots) when the Rockets still had a chance. Only during garbage time in the fourth did he play much (only because I understand Alston strained his hamstring), and he scored 7 points.

The Rockets’ offense was so out of whack, Dikembe Mutombo all of a sudden thought he was a scorer and put up a jump hook that clanged off the front of the rim, and then had the worst shot I think I’ve ever seen from a pro: he went up for a jumper from the baseline which hit the side of the backboard! Luckily Luis Scola grabbed the rebound and scored. Scola would score only one other field goal the entire game, making just 2-of-8 shots for 7 points.

Add in Alston’s 2-of-10 shooting (6 points), Tracy McGrady‘s 5-of-18 (16) and Chuck Hayes 1-of-6 shooting that contributed to 35% overall shooting, and there’s just about no way the Rockets could win this game.

To top off the mediocrity, in the first half they turned the ball over 12 times and failed to get back on defense multiple times, getting out-hustled in fast break points (25-12). And they couldn’t hit their free throws, either, missing 6-of-19, including Scola missing his first 3 FTs of the game.

Down 61-44 at halftime, the Rockets were going to obviously need someone to step up quick and get hot. That didn’t really happen. Probably the worst series of plays in the third quarter that typified the Rockets’ struggles was McGrady getting his shot blocked 2 possessions in a row, followed by getting stripped on the next possession.

Granted, the Rockets had problems shooting anywhere in the vicinity of Marcus Camby, who had 7 blocks and contributed to the Rockets’ ineffectiveness around the rim. But you would expect more from one of the better teams in the West. It just goes to show how important Battier and Jackson are to the Rockets’ chemistry.

I’ll be watching closely tomorrow for what the Rockets decide to do with Battier in a huge game in Utah. They will need him, and if Battier plays and they beat the Jazz, then he won’t have to play the last regular season game against the Clippers, and will have about 5 days of rest before their first playoff game next weekend. I would think that would be a nice return for playing Monday night.

5 Responses to “Rockets a dud in Denver”

  1. oolong48 Says:

    john, i disagree with you. I think resting our players is more important. it’ll be wonderful if they can achieve both but if i have to choose, winning the first round of the playoff is better than being the number one seed.

    I think their chances of winning the first round of the playoffs goes up if they win the West. Also, why play 82 games if they don’t have the goal to win the Conference? — John

  2. Luckyme Says:

    I think the Golden State Warriors were the most disappointed lots with the Houston’s loss last night!

    Joking aside, I think the coaching staff and the team figured they would do better on the road than at home. Hence, the poor performance and effort. It is quite clear that they were not too concerned with having home court advantage. They would rather have more healthy players instead.

  3. oolong48 Says:

    John,

    Didn’t the Mavs-Warriors series last season tell you anything? No. 1 seed doesn’t guarantee anything. Home court advantage doesn’t mean anything either. Didn’t we have home court advantage last season? What happened then? I believe healthy players are more important.

    Uh…yeah, in the history of the NBA, only two #8 seeds have been beaten a #1 seed like last year. So with that logic you have, it’s okay to just schlep through a season and not even try to get home court, because miracles are going to happen. Right. Do you have some swampland in Florida you want to sell? And maybe some stock in Pets.com?

    I don’t believe you fool around. If the opportunity is there to get home court, you go for it with everything you’ve got. Just look at the stats and you’ll see that home court has made the difference in something like 70% of the playoff series, probably even more. Regarding last year’s Utah-Rockets series, that just goes to show you how much the Rockets choked.

    So with your logic, it looks like you’re guaranteeing a win by the Rockets in the playoffs without home court all the way to the Championship. Willing to put $500 on that? I rest my case. — John

  4. oolong48 Says:

    John,

    I can’t believe this is a reply from a huge Rockets fan like you! Do you forget how the team won their second ring?

    If all the players are healthy, they certainly should do their best to win every remaining game. Too bad they’re not! And honestly, they probably won’t win any 7 games series against a good team without Yao, even the Nuggets. But with well rest players, they’ll have a higher chance to surprise us than playing tired and hurt. That’s my opinion. If you disagree, so be it! No need to get upset!

    I was a little upset at the tone of your first post. When there are multiple rhetorical questions asked with question marks after every sentnece, it comes across as smart alecky and condescending. So do mutltiple exclamation points. No need to do that. People can get the point without all of that. If they exist, responses might come back with an edge no matter who the person is.

    Regarding the Rockets, being a fan doesn’t mean being blind. Otherwise, there will be no meaningful improvement. I want the Rockets to succeed, but they have to prove they are committed to winning more than the other team, including playing with a little pain unless it’s debilitating like Yao’s or Rafer’s. The Rockets and other players in the past have proved if they ‘rest’ for more than a few days, it requires an adjustment period (especially with their shooting), which the Rockets really cannot afford to have entering the playoffs where every game is crucial. — John

  5. oolong48 Says:

    My apologies to you, John! English is not my first language. I have no idea asking questions will upset you. I just want to state some facts to back up my points. Thanks for telling me!

    I am also a football(soccer) fan. It’s very common to rest your players when you have important matches coming up in the football world. To me, playoff is more important.

    Let’s agree to disagree.

    Cheers!

    No problem, oolong48. That explains it. 🙂 — John

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