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.