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I’ve decided to go to Game 7

Sunday, May 17th, 2009
by John

Through an 11th hour decision, I’ve decided to buy a ticket to Sunday’s Game 7 in LA. I thought since I happen to be in California right now for work, there are plenty of Laker fans who have decided to sell their tickets at a somewhat reasonable price, and I never cared to go to a Laker game unless it meant something for Houston, it was now or never — all the planets have aligned and I’m going!

This time it won’t be attending as a member of the media like in Games 3 & 4 last weekend in Houston. I’m going as a fan. That means I can clap and yell just like any other Rocket fan would. It’ll be nice.

The only downside is that I won’t have Internet access there like I had last weekend, and I probably won’t be able to file my report until hours after the game, probably later Sunday evening, because I’ll have to fly back to the San Francisco Bay Area where I’m working. But hopefully by my being at Staples I’ll be able to bring a different perspective to my game report. And I may be able to file a very short report at halftime and after the game through my iPhone. Better yet, FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER during the game and I’ll try to tweet during some of the timeouts.

I hope this trip turns out a lot different than it did 4 years ago when I went to that Game 7 debacle in Dallas where the Rockets got blown out by 40 points. I have to admit that I never thought I would set myself up for such disappointment again, but after seeing the heart this team has shown, I’ve got to go and support them!

LA fans say a Game 7 loss could be worst in Laker history

Saturday, May 16th, 2009
by John

This is a fascinating thread I found on a Laker fan site. Some say a Laker loss on Sunday to the Rockets in Game 7 could be the worst in Laker history, but be one of the biggest upsets in sports history. Gotta give credit to the people in there who are giving props to the Rockets for showing so much heart in this series.

On another note, I went on the the Lakers’ Ticketmaster site where fans can buy tickets from other fans through a program called TicketExchange, and I’m amazed at how many tickets are being sold by Laker fans for the right price. Maybe it’s an indicator of these sellers’ lack of confidence that their team can pull it off.

Let’s win this one for the fans, yourselves, and for Rick

Saturday, May 16th, 2009
by John

We all know the Rockets are playing to win for the fans and themselves. But one thing I can’t believe that hasn’t been discussed at all among the local or national media (maybe they will after they read this post) is that in four attempts, Rick Adelman has never beaten Phil Jackson in a playoff series, going 0-for-4.

The first series loss was in the NBA Finals in 1992 between TrailBlazers and Chicago Bulls. Then Adelman lost 3 playoff series in a row to the Lakers as coach of the Sacramento Kings in 2000, 2001 and in 2002. That 2002 series was the Western Conference Finals, a series in which disgraced referee Tim Donaghy said wrong calls were intentionally made in Game 6 to force a Game 7.

So let’s win this game for Adelman, too, because he’s probably too soft-spoken to ever admit that he would like to beat Jackson at least once in a playoff series.

It’s still amazing to think how the Rockets defied the oddsmakers who marked Houston as 9-point underdogs before Game 6, and had them down as 70-1 favorites to win the championship. I don’t know what their odds are now, but something tells me it’s better than 70-1 now. Funny how one stunning win can change everything. I bet there are a lot of people who wished they had put money down on that game and the Rockets’ chances of winning a ring.

One of the stats that I thought was amazing is that the Rockets are now 13-2 this season after suffering double-digit losses. Also, the Lakers have only scored 36 points in a first half only twice all season long, and those two games happened to be in Games 4 & 6 of this series. And the Rockets only had 1 TO in the 4th quarter. They have matured and evolved so much the past few months. Remember just a few months ago how we were talking about how they didn’t have poise in the 4th quarter?

And did you hear how the Rockets-Lakers game on Thursday was the most watched NBA game on ESPN in that network’s history?

This is the obviously the most anticipated Game for the Rockets in 12 years. One thing for sure is that Houston fans will remember this team for a very long time, win or lose Sunday afternoon. This year’s Rockets team reminds me, when I was a kid, of the 1980-81 Rockets making an improbable run to the NBA Finals with a 40-42 record led by Moses Malone. And people forget that in the playoffs the 1981 team unbelievably BEAT THE LAKERS led by Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in a best of 3 series!

I think the reason why the first round playoff series were “Best of 3” back then is because the disparity between good and bad teams was so large, they thought there was no way a top seed would lose to a lesser-seeded team in the first round.

This year’s Rockets team is like that 1981 team, except with Yao now out, imagine that team without Moses! No way that 1981 team could have gone as far as this one has without Moses, which makes the last two victories this team has had over the Lakers in this series even more impressive.

Outside of Moses, that team had the following players (I’ve noted who their 2009 counterparts would be):

Calvin Murphy/Allen Leavell (Aaron Brooks/Von Wafer — scorer galore, quick to the basket)
Billy Paultz (Chuck Hayes — shorter, but tough as nails and nice defender)
Robert Reid (Ron Artest – tough defender, can hit the jumper)
Rudy Tomjanovich (Shane Battier, a decent outside shooter, not as good as Rudy, and a much better defender than Rudy)
Mike Dunleavy (Kyle Lowry – tough playmaker, can hit the outside shot)
Bill Willoughby (Carl Landry — great dunker who attacks the rack)

No one on that team really matches Luis Scola, who has so many moves down low, except when he shoots from the top of the key, there are some Rudy T. similarities.

Looking ahead to Sunday’s game, the Rockets need big games from Aaron Brooks, and I’d love to see Carl Landry rattling some rims like he did on Thursday night, and Scola dominating down low. It would be nice if Artest had a bounce-back game statistically. If he did, and the other players come through, then this game is a lock.

So here we go! It doesn’t get much bigger than Sunday’s game! This is what it’s all about – these ‘unknown’ players showing how good they are on the world stage. All I know is that if the Rockets win Sunday, it could be one of the greatest series upsets since the #8 seed Golden State Warriors defeated the #1 seeded Dallas Mavericks two years ago. If the Rockets do win, do you think their win would be bigger than the Warriors beating the Mavericks in that series? If so, why? (without citing the obvious reason that Yao is out).

If the Rockets win, I can’t wait to hear Jim Rome’s show Monday morning. I like Romie, but he’s an unabashed Laker fan and cracked down on the Lakers after they lost to the Rockets after Game 4 and Game 6.

Rockets shock nation again in Game 6 to tie series 3-3

Friday, May 15th, 2009
by John

The Rockets continued their run of stunning almost everyone around the league Thursday night. After being smacked down by 40 points against the Lakers Tuesday night, they resurrected themselves in an elimination game (down 3-2 in their series), coming up with one of their most inspiring victories in years when everyone thought they would lay down and die.

Yao continues to join his teammates in pregame huddles to show his commitment toward his team. Click here for more photos of Yao at the game.

What else can be said about this Rockets team that hasn’t already been said in Houston?…well, almost everyone in Houston except for one particular Houston Chronicle columnist I referenced earlier today who thought the Rockets were dead on arrival, trying to bring down the whole town to his depressing level.

We all know the national media hasn’t given much to what the Rockets have been able to do this series against the Lakers. The chatter has been all about how the Lakers are making stupid mistakes and aren’t playing with energy or commitment, and how they should be “embarrassed” playing down or below Houston’s level.

As much as my brain or the oddsmakers told us they had no chance Thursday night (9-point underdogs), my heart told me they could show that amazing resiliency at least one more time.

Every game they win against the Lakers, it seems like it’s a different player, or players, who step up and surprise them. It could be Aaron Brooks, Shane Battier, or Chuck Hayes like in Game 4. However, I knew it was just a matter of time before the Rockets’ power forwards would make their impact late in this series.

Luis Scola and Carl Landry had almost become forgotten men. Scola had only averaged 11 points per game in this series before Thursday night, not scoring more than 12 points or hitting more than 5 field goals in any of those games.

Well, Scola knew it was time for him to step up in a do-or-die game, and he erupted by doubling his series averages, scoring 24 points on 10-of-17 shooting, including scoring 14 points in the first quarter on a variety of slick offensive moves and jumpers that made him a tough cover. Oh yeah, he also grabbed 12 boards, AND HE WAS DOING IT WITHOUT YAO MING IN THE LINEUP to give him more “open looks.” Scola scored in the heart of the Laker defense over Pau Gasol.

Luis Scola is pumped after an impressive bucket he scored in the low post. Click here for more action photos from the game.

This type of performance is the reason why I was so ecstatic to hear before last season started that the Rockets had landed a savvy, skilled, and seasoned veteran power forward in Scola who could score in the low post.

Meanwhile, Landry had only scored 2 points in that incredible Game 4 win, and 9 points in the Game 5 blowout. So he was due for a big game. He delivered when they needed all hands on deck.

Landry attacked the rack like we’ve seen so many times before, especially during that 22-game winning streak last season, but not much in front of a national TV audience where he could show how athletic he is. Landry would make all 6 of his shots, almost all highlight reel plays, for 15 points. He also grabbed 9 boards and had 2 blocks.

I think the Lakers must now be wondering, “Man, now we’ve got ANOTHER guy to worry about?”

And Aaron Brooks was money at home again, scoring a game high 26 points on 8-of-13 shots. He knew if he was going to be effective, he had to recapture some of that same Game 4 mojo back where he scored 34 points by penetrating into the lane and being aggressive with his shot.

On Thursday, Brooks amazed the entire country again with his fearlessness of going into the trees and taking shots in the crowded paint scoring over tall guys like Gasol or Lamar Odom, or being confident enough to take tough 3-pointers when the game was in the balance. It’s just incredible to see a young player who everyone doubted to become closer to Tony Parker levels so quickly, earlier than anyone thought could happen

This is all good for Yao Ming fans, you know. With the success of players in this series like Brooks, Battier, Scola and Landry, they are going to be so much better next season playing with even more confidence. Because of it, the Rockets could be THE major force in the West once Yao returns to the lineup. And they could even become what the Spurs have been the past few years.

Ron Artest had a slightly better game than he’s had recently, scoring 14 points and hitting a couple of big buckets. I have to admit when he launched some of those shots, I was wondering what in the world was he doing? But then they went through the basket, and I’d say, “Whew!” Artest would only make 6-of-17 shots on the night, but he had 3 assists. Just think how convincing these wins would be once he starts hitting for a higher percentage.

There was so much to this game, I could keep writing and writing. But since we have almost 3 days before Game 7 in LA, I’m going to call it a night, but you can bet I’ll be back to write more in the next 48 hours.

I’ll leave off on this note, though. The last time a Texas team went to LA to play against a heavily favored opponent to win something major where no one gave them a chance, it was the Texas Longhorns facing the USC Trojans in the 2006 National Championship Game at the Rose Bowl. No one gave Texas a chance, and looked what happened in that one!

The question is, who can be the Rockets’ “Vince Young” on Sunday?

If I were a betting man, I think it will be a team effort, just like it has been all series long.

Think positive, people. They can still win this

Thursday, May 14th, 2009
by John

I’m finding some doom-and-gloom articles from Houston sportswriters, like this one where Jerome Solomon says:

The Rockets’ 2008-09 season died Saturday when, on the eve of Game 4 of their second-round series with the Lakers, doctors told Yao Ming he needs two months off to heal a broken foot.
That is why most of you expect to witness the Rockets’ burial tonight against the Lakers. Go ahead and admit it.

I’m all about ‘keeping it real,’ but this is no time for giving up on the Rockets now. That’s for losers!

Instead, what I like are articles that talk about how positive and loose the Rockets are. Just last week (May 6th), this article after the Rockets WON Game 1 gives you plenty of reason they can win tonight. Check out these quotes and think about how they fit so well for the Rockets after getting beaten by 40 points on Tuesday and as they get ready to play Game 6 tonight against the Lakers:

The mood of the team is the same way every day,” Ron Artest said. “It doesn’t change. It’s weird, because every other team I ever played for in the playoffs, guys, players or coaches, would change their whole attitude. They would become more focused or more edgy. This team, we play hard during the regular season. We play the same way in the playoffs.”

Where previous Rockets teams might have felt the pressure of the first-round struggles, the influence of Aaron Brooks, Kyle Lowry, Carl Landry, Wafer and White has brought an exuberance that does not change based on wins and losses.

“I think the guys we have, whether they win or lose, they come back the next day like it’s a new day,” Rockets coach Rick Adelman said. “That’s all we keep talking about. We’re going to try to learn from it, but other than that, forget about it. This team really does that. A lot comes from our leadership from guys like Shane who are always there talking to them. There is just a really even keel about this team.”

As much as has been made about the influence of the veterans, from Dikembe Mutombo when he returned to the team on New Year’s Eve to the determination of Battier and Yao Ming, the young half of the roster has kept things light at times, too.

“We’re just the same every day because that’s the mentality we have,” Lowry said. “We can’t change. You can’t get too up or too down and I think we do bring an enthusiasm. But we have great veteran guys who are calm and have been through the fire.”

In a season that was marked with turmoil, that enthusiasm might have gotten the Rockets through, and could be as useful through the issues that come in the postseason.

“We are a mature team in a lot of ways and at the same time, a very young team,” Battier said. “We have an enthusiasm in a lot of ways, guys who are happy to be in the NBA and appreciative. It’s refreshing. It’s been a fun year to be around guys who are happy people.

“We’re the same group today that we were the first day of training camp, the same group after wining the first round for the first time in 12 years. We have a pretty loose group. We’re happy to be out here, happy to be part of the playoffs, happy to win Game 1. But you wouldn’t know this was a second-round playoff team right now; we’re pretty loose.
“We’re a bunch of guys that once the lights come on, the popcorns popping, we give it our best. We haven’t gotten too high, too low all year long. That’s who we are.

Let’s defy the odds tonight, and then do it again on Sunday!

Rockets roughed up in Game 5

Wednesday, May 13th, 2009
by John

This will probably be the shortest post-game analysis in this site’s history. One reason is because after the Rockets fell behind in Game 5 so much at the end of the first quarter and throughout the rest of the game, I paid the least attention to a Rockets playoff game ever.

The other reason is that there isn’t much to be learned in this kind of loss where almost everyone played poorly. Let’s just burn up the tape from this 40-point shellacking where everything went wrong, and look ahead to Game 6 in Houston. Keep your confidence, guys. Everyone is now doubting you again. You have them right where you want them.

Houston lost to the Mavericks in Game 7 a few seasons back by 40 points, too. Although Houston’s 118-78 Tuesday final score equals that, at least this time the Rockets have a game to redeem themselves and stay in this series. Back then they didn’t.

It’s sad that after not getting blown out in a game for months, this kind of defeat would happen at the worst time. But unlike Laker fans and media, we’re not going to start panicking and questioning the ability of this Rocket team. Bad games happen, so let’s move on.

At least we know now more than ever how important it is for Yao to be part of this team. I was ecstatic about the Game 4 win on Sunday, but that satisfaction is short-lived. It’s now a fight for survival.

Tonight’s game wore me out mentally and physically, so I’m going to call it a night.

New interview of Yao about his injury…and more

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009
by John

Raymond took a ton of time to translate an interesting interview that Yao gave to the Chinese press about what caused his injury, what happened the night it occurred, how he learned about the diagnosis, and the evolution of the team. Here are some of my favorite excerpts (but make sure to read the entire thing if you’ve got time):

* “Once we enter second round of the playoff, it will be just like you have surrendered all your quota harvest to the People’s Commune, and all the surplus of your harvest then belong to you.”

* “I still remembered we were down by 6 points only. I did not want to give up. I was thinking at that moment, let’s take this as my final game, and I’ll give it all. Just think, if I can tough it out, you think I will request to be replaced? I definitely will play to the last second of the game. But finally I really could not sustain any longer. Towards the end of the game, I was running with the heel of my foot, and it was in real pain.”

* “When I came back onto the bench, I told Keith Jones that I stepped on someone’s foot (and I turned my ankle). Carl Landry, sitting at my side on the bench, with his head down, whispered: “It was my foot.” His facial expression was as if he was afraid that I would punch him in the face. I said to him: “Why you have to be afraid? I won’t punch you. And it is not only you that I have stepped on (and tweak my ankle)”

* “It was not the same bone that was operated on last year. There was nothing wrong with that bone, and even the stainless steel screws that were inserted during the previous surgery. It was just a tiny hairline fracture (on another bone)”

* “Oh compared to the first round, second round is much shuang ? (literally much more crispy and delicious). The intensity and level of competition is just another level; it is just like how you feel when you proceed to a higher level in your electronic games. Playing basketball is just like that: as your opponents become much stronger and more competitive, then it becomes more interesting, meaningful and challenging to you as a player.”

* “There was this scene back at the locker room; we were discussing about how we should guard a certain player of a very strong team. Luis Scola told everybody that when he was with his national team, he was a nobody; and people just ignore him during the game. But now that he had changed to a new team, and people started calling him a winner. When he said that, everyone was psyched up. All these details just told me: We are a strong team.”

* “I must start to lose weight. I need to control my weight starting from now. I need complete rest for this injury to become fully recuperated. So I must pay ultra attention to my diet (to what I eat and drink). My diet has to guarantee the nutrition contents, but at the same time, I cannot indulge to become chubby and fat. Luckily I had had those experiences before, and I am absolutely clear on what I should do.”

More audio from Game 4 post-game

Monday, May 11th, 2009
by John

Here are more interviews I recorded yesterday. I always love listening to the players unedited because you’ll never know what you’ll pick up that you didn’t know before.

Shane Battier‘s post-game press conference (8:08):

Kobe Bryant‘s post-game presser (3:46):

Ron Artest in the locker room (3:07):

Chuck Hayes in the locker room (3:38):

Rockets shock Lakers without Yao; tie series 2-2

Sunday, May 10th, 2009
by John

Coming into Game 4, I had a strong feeling we were going to see what we saw Sunday afternoon. Without their best player in Yao Ming able to play because of another hairline fracture in his foot, a Rockets team came out like a cornered animal and shocked LA and the rest of the league, tying up their series at 2-2 with a 99-87 win. It wasn’t even that close as the score would seem.

If Houston’s Game 1 victory over the Lakers was a fluke of a win for Houston after a 7-day break for LA, then Sunday’s game must have them officially concerned. Could there be visions of the last year’s Finals against the Celtics, or the 2004 Finals against the Pistons where they were heavily favored then got blown off the court, be entering their mind now?

What a strange sight with Yao, Dikembe and McGrady in street clothes in the pre-game huddle. Click here for more photos of Yao and Dikembe on the bench.

The Rockets came out strong Sunday from the opening tip, went on a 9-0 run, built a 289point lead at one point, and never looked back. The Lakers closed it to within 13 points in the 4th quarter when the Rockets got careless with the ball (4 turnovers, when before the quarter started they only had 7 total) and were outscored 33-16. But their 29-point cushion after three quarters was so overwhelming, the Rockets eventually righted the ship and closed it out.

Yao cheers on his team in an amazingly electric game for his teammates.
Click here for photos of his teammates in action.

Even though this big victory doesn’t surprise some people, every Rockets fan still has to be very proud that they continue to bounce back from so much adversity this season with Carl Landry getting shot, and McGrady, Dikembe and now Yao out. We all knew they would play hard, but to have to adapt so quickly with a new gameplan after finding out the night before that Yao wouldn’t be available is remarkable.

I had been wondering after Game 1 why Aaron Brooks, who had torched the Lakers with 19 points, was almost a non-factor since then. I thought if anything was going to get him back to his Game-1 self, this was the opportunity since Yao’s absence and the spreading out of the offense would open up more lanes through which he could drive to the basket. Get him going by attacking the rim, and before you know it, the 3’s might start falling, too.

Like clockwork, that’s what happened. Brooks was baaaack with a playoff career-high 34 points on 12-of-20 shots, including 4-of-9 from three-point land and 4 assists. I’ve never seen a Rockets player who is almost impossible to contain like Aaron is because of his quickness and dribbling prowess. Brooks was able to expose Laker point guards Derek Fisher (2 points) and Jordan Farmar (7), getting just about any place on the court he wanted. Heck, throw in Kobe Bryant‘s 15 points on 7-of-17 shooting, and Brooks still outscored 3 of their starting guards combined.

Brooks had one of the most athletic plays I’ve seen from a Rocket since Von Wafer‘s reverse dunk near the end of the regular season against Portland: an alley-oop from Ron Artest on an inbounds pass from halfcourt to Brooks, who caught it in mid-air, suspended himself like Michael Jordan with some major hangtime, and laid it in off the glass! Sportscenter Play of the Day anyone?

Throw in Shane Battier having the playoff game of his life, 23 points including 5-of-10 3-pointers. With Brooks’ 4 treys, Houston shot 10-of-29 from beyond the arc, setting a playoff high this season for 3-pointers made in a game. Battier would later say he has been open all series long, and was a quote machine in his post-game press conference. I’ll have that audio up on the site in the next day.

Brooks would say after the game about Battier: “He came out and gave us a spark and defensively he did his thing. That’s the heart of the team right there.” Wow, that’s saying something on a team that has lots of heart.

Chuck Hayes did a great job filling in for Yao. Although his man Pau Gasol would score 30 points, he created problems by playing great help defense, and grabbing 9 boards and stealing the ball 4 times, 3 of those in the first quarter alone. After the game, Hayes would explain why they were able to force the Lakers to commit 11 turnovers:

“We are faster now without Yao in there and we can move our feet. If we can create a turnover and just spring the court to cause confusion, maybe we will get lucky and get an open three point shot or an open layup will come from that. We created turnovers with our ability to close out the paint and move our feet and we tried to play without fouling.”

Because of that kind of defense, the Rockets held the Lakers to 36 points in the first half, their lowest scoring half of the season.

You’ve got to give credit to the Rockets for showing what they’re made of against a high-profile team like the Lakers when their own high-profile guy in Yao is out.

What’s amazing is that the Rockets didn’t hardly get any scoring from the guys who I thought would come out on fire. Not that they didn’t play hard, because they all did — especially on defense with this kind of effort — but they only got 8 points from Ron Artest (4-of-19 shooting, including only 1-of-8 in the 4th quarter), Von Wafer only had 4 points, and Carl Landry had two points. Luis Scola chipped in 11, but he was only 4-of-11 from the field (but grabbed a playoff-career-best 14 boards). Chuck scored his obligatory 2 points. And even former Laker Brian Cook even got into the act for the first time when it really mattered, hitting a three that brought the house down.

There was alot of ‘house’ coming down Sunday afternoon at Toyota Center. I couldn’t keep up with counting how many times the crowd was on their feet and blowing the roof off the joint. And they responded by booing loudly whenever Fisher had the ball, or Kobe or Lamar Odom committed a foul. They did their job, helping scrap out this win.

Kyle Lowry, who scored a playoff-career-high 12 points and had two assists and two steals, was responsible for some electrifying moments himself, taking the ball coast-to-coast on one possession, going strong to the hole, getting fouled, then banking it off the glass Kobe-style.

The Lakers have to be worried even a little bit more now since Odom took a hard fall on his back, thanks to great defense by Battier, when he was called for a charge, laid on the floor for a few minutes, and had to leave the game because of back spasms.

It must be strange for Laker fans, who must have been giddy when they heard Yao was out for the season thinking they had this thing wrapped up, to be tied 2-2 and have Odom be questionable for Game 5 on Tuesday.

I’ll have plenty more on Monday with some further analysis and lots more audio from the locker room and press room.

Audio, photos, and a little video from Yao’s pre-game presser

Sunday, May 10th, 2009
by John

Here’s a 1-minute video snippet from Yao’s pre-game press conference that occurred earlier today:

I’ve also gone ahead and uploaded the ENTIRE AUDIO from earlier today. You can go check it out at the new YaoMania! Facebook page at Facebook/YaoMania. Just look for the little ‘music player’ underneath the ‘Fans’ box in the left-hand column to play the audio.

While you’re there on that Facebook page, go ahead and login using your Facebook account and become a fan of the page so you can get YaoMania updates on your Facebook wall.

You can also check out lots of photos like the one below of Yao before and during the game that the Rockets dominated against the Lakers. My report of that game will be coming shortly.