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The dreadful reality continues: without Yao and Brooks, Rockets lose in crunch time again

November 27th, 2010
by John

I hate to say it, but by the time Yao Ming and Aaron Brooks get back in a couple of weeks, the season will be lost, if it isn’t already. You can write off any chance of seeing the Rockets make the playoffs this season, especially after seeing what we saw in Charlotte Friday night where the Rockets blew another lead to lose 99-89 and drop to 4-11. I see nothing that tells me the Rockets are going to improve dramatically before Yao and Brooks return.

November 26th, 2010 - Jordan Hill throws down a dunk in Charlotte
One of the few bright spots Friday night was Jordan Hill, who scored 14 points on 5-of-7 shooting, although he would make a young player mistake down the stretch that cost them.

To win 48 games, which is about the minimum of what you might need to make the playoffs in the West, the Rockets will need to go 44-23 the rest of the way (a 66% winning rate). That’s just about impossible given the Rockets will probably play another 5-10 games before Yao and Brooks return to action. I haven’t seen a season over so soon for a team that was expected to be so good.

Note: I’m not saying the Rockets are a terrible team. They just aren’t very capable of winning games in the fourth quarter when most games are won. Not without Yao and Brooks. Injuries are a cruel reality in the NBA.

So now the season comes down to seeing how the Rockets’ young guys will progress so they can determine which guys they will trade and/or won’t sign next off-season. And to see how Yao’s foot holds up to see if they will sign him in the off-season, but probably at a much lower salary.

Since the Rockets don’t have a go-to guy, and their offense got stagnant again Friday night again when the pressure was on. The only thing they could resort to doing was jacking up 3-pointers. And they’re not very good at that, either. The Rockets shot a season-high 28 treys, hitting only 3-of-15 in the second half. Yet they kept jacking them up. That’s not basketball. That’s a last ditch effort to try to score when you have nothing else.

Below are more details on how the Rockets imploded down the stretch…again. Keep in mind that Charlotte is NOT a great close-out team. They are like Houston when it comes to close games, having only a 2-6 record in games decided by 4 points or less.

– 6:42 – Jordan Hill makes a great spin move for a dunk, and the Rockets are down only 82-78.

– 5:50 – Chase Budinger drives baseline for a reverse layup with 5:50 remaining to make it 84-80.

– 5:28 – Budinger misses a 3-pointer that could have brought the Rockets to within one.

– 5:00 – To his credit, Budinger makes a good play when he races up the court and Kyle Lowry throws him a long pass. Bud catches it, goes up for a dunk, and is fouled hard by Gerald Wallace. Bud sinks the free throws to make it 84-82.

– 4:46 – Somehow Houston’s defense lets Boris Diaw get wide open for a long jumper, which he hits to make it 86-82, Charlotte.

– 4:22 – Budinger has a chance to respond with a 3-pointer, but he misses it.

– 4:09 – Stephen Jackson takes Courtney Lee off the dribble, drives to the basket and lays it in. 88-82 Charlotte.

– 3:40 – Shane Battier misses a three-pointer, but fortunately Budinger gets the rebound. That’s when Jordan Hill lightly pushes Tyrus Thomas with his left arm trying to post-up, and Thomas flops to draw a foul call. A bad ticky-tack call by the ref , but Hill shouldn’t have even been tempted to use his arm like that, either. Stupid mistake. It would have been nice to have had a veteran big guy on the floor at that time, like Luis Scola or Brad Miller. Go figure.

– 3:23 – On the ensuing possession, somehow Diaw (6′ 8″, 235 lbs) gets a mismatch on Kevin Martin (6′ 7″, 185 lbs), and Diaw takes advantage of it by scoring easily on a baseline jump hook. 90-82 Charlotte.

– 2:56 – Battier misses another 3-pointer, then after an offensive rebound, blows a layup a few seconds later. Diaw grabs the rebound, loses control of the ball and falls backwards on the floor and lands on the end line right in front of the ref (Mike Callahan), but Callahan blows the call, lets play continue and a few seconds later Stephen Jackson nails a 3-pointer to make it 93-82. That’s the ball game.

So from 4:46 to 2:56 (less than 2 minutes), Charlotte went on a 9-0 run mainly because of bad Houston defense and of course, missed shots from Battier and Budinger. Same old story — no one can step up to hit shots in the crunch.

Overall, comparing the teams’ stats, every category was just about even for the Rockets except for a few:

– 33 field goals compared to Charlotte’s 39,
– 42% from the field vs. 46% for the Bobcats
– 14-of-23 from the free throw line (61%) vs. 75% for Charlotte

So it really came down to a couple of players’ individual stats to see who dragged them down from a shooting perspective.

Battier was awful, hitting only 1-of-9 shots and 0-for-6 from three-point land for 2 points overall. And he’s only 28% from 3-point land this season. How come Adelman doesn’t pay attention to percentages like these in late-game situations? My rule-of-thumb for Battier continues to ring true: When he doesn’t score, the Rockets lose.

Kevin Martin was only 6-of-17 for 16 points. He usually makes it up at the free throw line, but only had two attempts and sank one. Granted, he only played 31 minutes. You’d expect more, though. Why Adelman played his backup, Budinger, 28 1/2 minutes is beyond me. I thought Martin was supposed to be the Rockets’ go-to guy? To give Budinger so many minutes when he’s been struggling is perplexing. Same for Luis Scola, who only played about 30 minutes and scored 11 points, although Scola had a terrible night at the line: only 3-of-8. That’s just as bad as his 8-for-15 against Golden State Wednesday night. I think one thing that’s clear is that Adelman must not like what he sees on defense from Martin and Scola. Well, he didn’t get much of an improvement down the stretch, as described above.

Adelman finally put in Jermaine Taylor after the game was out-of-hand, and he came in and drilled a very pure 3-pointer that hit nothing but net. Do I have to say it any more? PLAY J.T. MORE!

If the Rockets are going to lose, let us at least see what Taylor can do with more significant minutes, and let’s see if he can do what Von Wafer did for the Rockets a few years ago. We could at least use some excitement until Brooks & Yao return…and before next year’s draft.

Another problem with the Rockets is that they have no on-court leader. I can see how Battier is a good leader in the locker room, but they need someone with an edge on the court who gets pissed, and gets in teammates’ faces on the bench. I’ve always liked Stephen Jackson because of that edge he brings to a team, but apparently Houston wants a team of good guys and choir boys who don’t rock the boat.

I think in order to succeed at the NBA level, every team needs at least one guy who can be a catalyst to fire up others and has the mental fortitude to withstand the pressure of a road crowd screaming at them, and still hit big shots. Remember Vernon Maxwell, Charles Barkley, and Ron Artest, just to name a few?

Man, I’m envious of teams that have young guns who are killing it this year, like second-year guy Russell Westbrook who scored 43 points Friday night against Indiana. The only way the Rockets are going to get someone like that is through the draft since they haven’t been able to sign mentally tough guys as free agents. You saw what they did with Wafer when he acted up against Adelman. They cut him.

Looking ahead, Daryl Morey said last week in a radio interview that it’s almost impossible to trade anyone until mid-December since every team is still in the process of assessing what they have on their rosters and what they need. And any team that’s doing well right now that has great players probably doesn’t want to get rid of them. So they will probably be stuck with doing deals with bottom dwellers like the Clippers, Timberwolves, Philadelphia, New Jersey, their lifelong trade buddies in Sacramento, etc.

Random thoughts:

– As down as the Rockets are with Yao’s injuries the past couple of seasons, I guess it could be worse. Think Portland and Greg Oden.

– I must admit when the Rockets were beaming about acquiring Courtney Lee in the off-season and said they had been pursuing him for a couple of years, I didn’t really get it. To me, he was most known for that blown layup with Orlando in the Finals against the Lakers that could have given the Magic more of a chance in that series. Unfair or not, maybe I’m too simple in that I like my acquisitions to be proven commodities. I know veterans are more expensive, and that the Rockets have been handcuffed with big salaries. But after unloading the Tracy McGrady contract, I was hoping for more at the backup two spot. At least they went out and got Brad Miller at the backup 5 spot, and Miller has proven to be worth his value. I have been impressed with Lee’s athleticism, but I was hoping he was going to turnout to be like another backup shooting guard the Rockets quietly acquired about 15 years ago who no one else knew about to win a couple of championships: Mario Elie. Even their names sounded alike.

– One of the few people in the NBA who probably felt worse than the Rockets Friday night was ex-Rocket John Lucas III, who was signed earlier in the day as a free agent by Chicago because of Derrick Rose‘s neck injury. Lucas missed 2 free throws that could have given the Bulls a 3-point lead with seconds remaining in the game. Instead, the Bulls lost the game on the next possession when Carmelo Anthony hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to win it. Poor Lucas. He got his chance to get back into the NBA after being relegated to playing for Yao’s Shanghai Sharks last season, had a great year in China, gets back to the NBA yesterday, and within a few minutes of playing time loses the game for his new team. If he had hit those free throws, chances were higher he could have stuck around in the NBA upon Rose’s return. Now it will be a tougher climb for him. I’m pulling for him, though.

– I can tell you the main Web site I’ll be watching over the next few months is this one: NBADraft.net. I can’t wait to see what kind of franchise player we can get. Perry Jones at Baylor looks good (small forward). I don’t think the Rockets need another point guard like the site lists on their projected Rockets pick — their biggest weakness is center and small forward since I don’t anticipate Battier will get a new contract, at least not one that pays him $7 million per year.

5 Responses to “The dreadful reality continues: without Yao and Brooks, Rockets lose in crunch time again”

  1. AllforRockets Says:

    I can't agree more on your points. I didn't watch Rockets game as much nowadays unless it's on national TV. I saw the meltdown in the final quarter, thinking about Idleman and Rockets quitting. Yes, Rockets doesn't get much good prospect for the playoff. But some of the adjustments and calls by Idleman were doubtful, just like what you have described.

    Now the big question is Yao's future. It's tragical that Yao was abused and his career has been cut short. I can forgive the fact that when Yao played 40 plus minutes when without a legit backup center. Mutombo was a joke! Look at Lakers other teams, owners were willing to pay luxury taxes to build a championship team. Yao should have been more selfish and self-protective, but he had to live up to the hype (or expectation) and overworked himself.

    A bit tragic when looking back. Until it's too late, nobody won't heed it.

  2. AllforRockets Says:

    Will Yao be playing like Ingakas at Heat if not play in full strength in future, being traded or not? At least, Yao will be active in the league and symbolically important.

    Rockets accepted and created Yao. Meanwhile, it ruined it. If Jeff Vangandy had stayed with Rockets, it's more likely that Yao' career could have been longer. (Remember Idelman's run-and-gun from the King's tradition) But not sure JVG could have got into the second round in the playoff as Idleman. You had to pick the poison.

    Yao was an experiment, not a joke like Charles Barkingly said.

  3. ty Says:

    Unfortunately, I completely agree with you. As the Rockets are now the 4th worst team in the league, I'm now resigned to hoping that the Rockets will tank this season & hope for lottery magic next year. And, I can't believe that I'm more excited to see Kevin Durant this Sunday at the Toyota Center than the Rockets' likely end-of-game collapse =(

  4. YaoMingMania Says:

    Yao won't be traded. His contract this season at $18 million is way too high

    for any team to take on. I hope he stays in Houston at a far smaller

    contract. I wouldn't be surprised to see Yao sign with Houston for

    significantly less since 1) his value isn't that high right now because of

    his injury history, unless he is amazing when he returns, 2) Houston has

    been good to him, giving him all the trainers and specialists anyone could

    need, and 3) he's been paid alot of money the past two seasons for very

    little in return, and I think he's the kind of guy who would want to make it

    up to them, and a smaller contract isn't out of the question.

    I totally disagree about JVG making Yao's career longer. JVG actually ran

    him into the ground with 40+ minutes per night regularly. And don't forget

    the obligations Yao had to the Chinese National Team in the off-season.

    There's culpability on both sides of the Pacific. But in reality, no one

    really knew what impact (no pun intended) Yao's feet would have to endure at

    7'6″ and 310 pounds since not many other players had come to the league with

    his size and taken that kind of pounding.

  5. AllforRockets Says:

    An interesting article. Even Pau Gasol and Odom combined can't bear with the absence of Byum. This says it all about how Yao was abused and damaged by Rockets management and coaches.

    Andrew Bynum injury taking toll on L.A.
    http://sports.espn.go.com/los-angeles/nba/news/story?id=5861351

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