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Rockets drop to 5th seed after loss to Dallas and lose home court

April 16th, 2009
by John

If you’ve been following the Rockets for a few years, you never get used to the disappointment and underachievement. Chalk up another gag job in the annals of Rocket lore Wednesday night in Dallas.


Yao is fronted by Brandon Bass during a 95-84 loss to Dallas. Yao scored 23 points and grabbed 9 boards, but only took 5 shots in the second half and didn’t score in the fourth quarter, mainly because of the Rockets’ inability to take advantage of Dallas’ fronting defense. Sound familiar? Click here for more photos from the game.

The Rockets were sitting pretty headed into the final game of the regular season against the Mavericks where they could get as high as the #2 seed, but probably the 3rd seed, or at worst, the 4th seed. Falling anything further than the 4th seed, losing home court, and having to play the Lakers if somehow the Rockets won their first round series….well, that scenario was virtually unfathomable and would be considered an utter failure if it played out that way. The Rockets were too high in the standings for the past few weeks for too long to think they could drop that far in just one night.

Leave it to the Rockets to leave your head shaking once again. I could go into lots of details about what happened in this particular game, but there are plenty of places you can go to find that out. I’m frankly tired of writing about the same old things when they lose a big game like this.

Maybe I’ll go into more detail over the next couple of days when I watch the video of the game again, and do more of an analysis on Yao’s game, but not tonight.

This year’s path in the playoffs was supposed to be much more different than the past few seasons. A better seed, better match-ups. Instead, they don’t have home court now, and they have to play a dangerous and athletic Portland team.

So why does this keep happening to the Rockets, blowing double-digit leads and unable to win big games on the road against good teams when it really counts? Why didn’t they come out and play one of their best games, instead playing one of their worst over the past few weeks when the chips were down?

I think it’s because of one main thing: it’s really hard to find players who perform at their best when the pressure is on. The Rockets keep cycling through players to find the guys who can do that when the games are REALLY big, and they’re getting close, but they’re obviously not there yet. But you know Daryl Morey will keep trying.

Right now there’s got to be some second-guessing that the trading away of an experienced point guard like Rafer Alston, who ran the offense reasonably well, but wasn’t that great of a shooter, isn’t being made up with enough scoring output from Aaron Brooks, who scored only 7 points on 3-of-7 shooting in 19 minutes Wednesday night. The lack of offensive output from Brooks was made up somewhat by Kyle Lowry, who the Rockets got in return for Alston. Lowry scored 15 points, grabbed 7 boards, and had 5 assists in 30 minutes of play.

One question the Rockets’ coaching staff now face is the idea of giving more minutes to Lowry over Brooks, like they did Wednesday night, at the expense of affecting the confidence of Brooks.


Another question mark is Artest, who I really liked after McGrady went down (and even beforehand) and was shooting lights out. But his basketball IQ on offense is too low, which you can’t afford to have when games get tight. I’m getting really tired of his bad shot selection and the ballhoggish-ness.

The Rockets spent too much time waiting for McGrady to mature as a player, he never really did, and the Rockets wasted too much time waiting for it to happen. I have a feeling that will be the problem with Artest as well. He is what he is, and if he hasn’t gotten it by now, it’s time to move on, not sign him to a new contract after the season is over, and somehow find a star player who can score and play well under pressure. We’ll talk about that further in the off-season when the time is right.

I wonder if all that player data that Morey crunches can reveal players who play smart under pressure? After all, it’s not just Artest who loses his composure. As Shane Battier said after the game, “The big fella was rolling and we sort of got away from him, which is probably the dumbest thing we can do, especially when the big fella gets it rolling. We started to look elsewhere and started to take long, contested jumpers, which fed into their game plan of getting out and running. They had a couple of 3s and got back in the game. After that, it was tough to slow them down.”

Battier reverted back to his old conservative offensive ways somewhat (9 points on 2-of-5 shooting). The Rockets need much more production from their small forward, especially in this league. We’ve all seen Battier has the capability to score about double the number of points, but he’s almost too unselfish. Score, Shane, score!

Probably the biggest surprise Wednesday night was the disappearance of Mr. Consistency, Luis Scola, who had a rare off game with only 5 points on 2-of-8 shooting, and he was absolutely torched by Dirk Nowitzki (30 points, 15 rebounds).

Anytime 3 bench players (Lowry (15), Landry (8), and Wafer (7)) almost outscore the 4 starters around Yao (Artest (10), Brooks (7), Battier (9), and Scola (5)), you’re not going to win many games.

What’s most maddening is that the Rockets cannot do what they’ve been taught to combat fronting defenses against Yao, which was their downfall yet again Wednesday night. That’s not acceptable. Yao took on some of the blame post-game: “We had a ball-movement problem and I didn’t hold my post well. It’s my problem.”

That’s admirable Yao is taking the high road, but let’s face it, it’s everyone’s problem, not just Yao’s.

It’s going to be very interesting to see how the Rockets respond to this major disappointment of a loss. They have been resilient all year long, but they can’t help but get a little rattled when they were probably facing just an hour flight, at most, to play New Orleans or Dallas in the first round, but instead now have to take 5 hour flights to Portland, perhaps 3 trips over the next 7 games, and they have no home court advantage. That’s got to hurt the confidence of almost anyone.

There’s only one possible silver lining to them losing home court advantage, and it’s a stretch. The Rockets can’t stand prosperity, and seem to play better when they’re the underdog, which they surely will be when they go to Portland with that great crowd they have there. The Rockets could win one of the first 2 games in Portland because everyone is counting the Rockets out now after they failed so badly in Dallas. But that may be just what they need to steal a game in Portland and regain home court.

If the Rockets are lucky enough to beat the Blazers in the first round, they would then face the Lakers (their punishment for not beating Dallas Wednesday night), and the only chance they have of winning that series is if Kobe gets hurt before that series would begin.

If and when they lose that series, or even the Portland one, short of a miracle of synapses being forged in Artest’s brain, look for the Rockets to let Artest go and find a smart, scoring 2-guard who makes the right shot-making decisions when the pressure is on.

20 Responses to “Rockets drop to 5th seed after loss to Dallas and lose home court”

  1. pryuen Says:

    Personally I've lost patience with this so called read-and-react tactic/game plan of Rick Adelman.

    When Dirk Nowitzki kept torching Luis Scola in the 3Q, when the guards started to get away from Big Yao, when Aaron Brooks lost control of the rhythm/tempo of the game, when the 14-points lead got blown away bit by bit, WHAT was Rick Idleman doing?? NOTHING !!!

    Why Aaron Brooks and not Kyle Lowry in that messy 3Q? Why not Chuck Hayes to guard Nowitzki? Why put Von Wafer to guard Jason Terry ? And who was to be responsible for letting Josh Howard in 3Q to pour in 13 points in that quarter alone?

    And for that eternal fronting defense issue of Big Yao that had plagued the Rockets for this whole season, WHERE is the solution??

    It is PATHETIC coaching.

    He needs to make wiser and quicker on-the-fly adjustment instead of giving his players that “freedom” to read-and-react to find solutions on their own when the chips are going down.

    To give away a 14-point lead in mid 3Q, the division title and home court advantage, and the prospect of avoiding LA Lakers (or Utah Jazz) in Round 2 (of course, they have to break that jinx/curse of not getting past Round 1 first) all within few blinks of the eyes was really a most frustrating and heart-breaking thing for the Rockets fans.

  2. sonnay Says:

    Rockets are so annoying to root for.
    Always up and down…
    Hopefully this problem is fixed during the playoffs.

    A good Rockets team can do a lot of damage to others.
    But of course…
    A bad Rockets team can do a lot of damage to themselves.

    Thank you John once again for the analysis. Always look forward to reading these after Rocket games.

  3. airchina23 Says:

    They had a clear path to the conference finals and they blew it. As the game's outcome was almost decided, I turned the channel and only to catch Michael Finley's game-typing 3 ptr, that was a double blow.

    I sincerely hope they get out the first round, I'll settle for hard-fought semi-finals against the Lakers. If they lose to Portland, then I doubt I'll watch this team anymore.

  4. NYCBOBBY Says:

    What a roller coaster of a night. We were leading by as much as 13 in the 3rd. Yao came out of half time and remained aggresive and even dunked on the first couple of plays. Then kaboom! It was like a meteorite hit us. Everything just caved in. Yao actually didn't do that bad. I just don't know who is at fault any more. Obviously the main problem is that when Dallas started fronting Yao we were running like chickens with their head cut off. But I dont know who to blaim now. Is it Adleman and his staff? Shouldn't he have a solution by now? Is it Yao? Shouldn't he have tricks up his sleave by now, like move back towards to the rim and move back up in front to get the ball. Can we blaim the passer? Being that Yao is slow enough, they should pass right away once Yao get a glimpse of light in front of the defender. I'm just speechless. I thought they had a good chance to get to the conference finals, now it's just a blessing to get out of the first round again. Brooks was hesistant to shoot. Scola was hesistant to shoot. Artest is going to be Artest. But we need to find a solution to the fronting defense dammit!!!

  5. YaoMingMania Says:

    Thanks for the compliment.

  6. YaoMingMania Says:

    It was so sickening. I still can't believe how they caved in. I
    thought we were past all the choking after the Chicago debacle.

  7. Bob Says:

    Yao's leadership role in this Rockets team is going to be thoroughly tested in the several weeks (hopefully these weeks last until June). As a Yao fan I have to say that he has not lived up to our expectations when it comes to playoffs. Lead by example is just not enough. He has to be vocal, calling names if necessarily.

  8. Shawn Says:

    I can't believe they tanked such a crucial game! trading Rafer for Lowry was a good move, Lowry's gritty and plays good D, he can guard anyone from a guard to small forward, we're gonna need that in the playoffs. I'll put on my Utah hat and root for the Jazz in the first round, maybe amazing will happen.

  9. Jeff Says:

    It is not the first time that the Rockets throw away such a game. It is not about one or two players. It is about the whole team.

    When the issue is about the whole team, who should be responsible? Naturally, the Head Coach.

    If the Head Coach is a responsible person, he should take the initiative to resign from the post. And Morey should accept the resignation without hesitation.

    ???????????????????????????????????????????

  10. JAYC Says:

    hi John, thanks for your hard work, i am glad you are blogging again. this site is great as always.

    i count the rox lose the 1st round, sad to say and hope i am wrong. there are three deadly factors any playoff opponent can exploit.

    1. front yao like mad with a strong and quick defender and maybe double him, he will never conquer this defense. portland will do it, their big man has no ego issues with fronting or doubling him (unlike shaq and dwight).

    2. once yao is unable to get the ball, the rockets will play just a jump shooting game w/o any penetration.

    3. without a center presence, selfishness and inexperience will prevail. aaron is simply too inexperienced to be a distributor, he and artest will essentially be ball hogs. shane and scola will be left out of the picture. guys like wafer, landry will get the scraps off the table. anytime scola has a bad game, it is because of a selfish offense (ie. brooks and ronron go solo).

    so it does start with yao, we know he tries and tries but at this point, i don;t think he will ever get over athletic small fronting d-fens. thanks.

  11. Ivan Says:

    It was a disappointing drop, but it's not like it wasn't expected coming into the game. Rockets were a .500 road team heading into the night and they were playing a playoff team. Spurs and Blazers on the otherhand were playing at home. Blazers got it especially easy since Denver locked the #2 spot before they started the game, so they didn't even have to try for the win. I still believe the Rockets can get past Blazers without homecourt, as they matchup quite well against the Blazers and their traditional bigs.

  12. MengHuiHanTang Says:

    I agree with pryuen. Adelman is pathetic. Does anyone know what he told his players when the entire team was struggling?

    ” Stay positive. Everything will be fine.” And he used two time-outs to say the same thing twice.

    What the heck? I thought time-out is mainly for a new game plan.

    You know what, when Rockets lose the first round again (which most likely will happen to this Rocket team), don't let Artest go. You need keep him for T-MAC and Rockets, because Yao is saying goodbye to every body. Good luck.

  13. Mr. Yao Says:

    Wow, thought the game was won and done in the 3rd when the Rockets had that big lead. It's so frustrating and unfair that shooters get touch foul calls, but defenders can hold, scratch, hit, pull, flop, etc.. on centers, especially on Yao. The game changer started with the BS defense and foul calls on Yao (I think it all happenned on the same spot on the court, too) which gave away at least 5 straight possessions and took away Yao's aggressiveness on defense and offense. I believe Rockets will win against Blazers (Hope Hayes keeps playing tough D on Aldridge). I hope Utah beats the Lakers somehow so we get some payback and finally beat them.

  14. Bob Says:

    Yao's leadership role in this Rockets team is going to be thoroughly tested in the several weeks (hopefully these weeks last until June). As a Yao fan I have to say that he has not lived up to our expectations when it comes to playoffs. Lead by example is just not enough. He has to be vocal, calling names if necessarily.

  15. Shawn Says:

    I can't believe they tanked such a crucial game! trading Rafer for Lowry was a good move, Lowry's gritty and plays good D, he can guard anyone from a guard to small forward, we're gonna need that in the playoffs. I'll put on my Utah hat and root for the Jazz in the first round, maybe amazing will happen.

  16. Jeff Says:

    It is not the first time that the Rockets throw away such a game. It is not about one or two players. It is about the whole team.

    When the issue is about the whole team, who should be responsible? Naturally, the Head Coach.

    If the Head Coach is a responsible person, he should take the initiative to resign from the post. And Morey should accept the resignation without hesitation.

    ???????????????????????????????????????????

  17. JAYC Says:

    hi John, thanks for your hard work, i am glad you are blogging again. this site is great as always.

    i count the rox lose the 1st round, sad to say and hope i am wrong. there are three deadly factors any playoff opponent can exploit.

    1. front yao like mad with a strong and quick defender and maybe double him, he will never conquer this defense. portland will do it, their big man has no ego issues with fronting or doubling him (unlike shaq and dwight).

    2. once yao is unable to get the ball, the rockets will play just a jump shooting game w/o any penetration.

    3. without a center presence, selfishness and inexperience will prevail. aaron is simply too inexperienced to be a distributor, he and artest will essentially be ball hogs. shane and scola will be left out of the picture. guys like wafer, landry will get the scraps off the table. anytime scola has a bad game, it is because of a selfish offense (ie. brooks and ronron go solo).

    so it does start with yao, we know he tries and tries but at this point, i don;t think he will ever get over athletic small fronting d-fens. thanks.

  18. Ivan Says:

    It was a disappointing drop, but it's not like it wasn't expected coming into the game. Rockets were a .500 road team heading into the night and they were playing a playoff team. Spurs and Blazers on the otherhand were playing at home. Blazers got it especially easy since Denver locked the #2 spot before they started the game, so they didn't even have to try for the win. I still believe the Rockets can get past Blazers without homecourt, as they matchup quite well against the Blazers and their traditional bigs.

  19. MengHuiHanTang Says:

    I agree with pryuen. Adelman is pathetic. Does anyone know what he told his players when the entire team was struggling?

    ” Stay positive. Everything will be fine.” And he used two time-outs to say the same thing twice.

    What the heck? I thought time-out is mainly for a new game plan.

    You know what, when Rockets lose the first round again (which most likely will happen to this Rocket team), don't let Artest go. You need keep him for T-MAC and Rockets, because Yao is saying goodbye to every body. Good luck.

  20. Mr. Yao Says:

    Wow, thought the game was won and done in the 3rd when the Rockets had that big lead. It's so frustrating and unfair that shooters get touch foul calls, but defenders can hold, scratch, hit, pull, flop, etc.. on centers, especially on Yao. The game changer started with the BS defense and foul calls on Yao (I think it all happenned on the same spot on the court, too) which gave away at least 5 straight possessions and took away Yao's aggressiveness on defense and offense. I believe Rockets will win against Blazers (Hope Hayes keeps playing tough D on Aldridge). I hope Utah beats the Lakers somehow so we get some payback and finally beat them.

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