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

Saturday, 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.

Big shots from the ‘Big Two’ beat Bobcats

Saturday, March 14th, 2009
by John

Yao fans and Rocket fans will be talking for a long time about the 3-pointer that Yao hit with 2:10 remaining and the shot clock buzzer going off as a key to the Rockets victory over Charlotte Friday night.

Yao Ming drains a 3-pointer in the final couple of minutes of the Charlotte game to help the Rockets win. Click here for more photos from the game.

It was the first 3-pointer that Yao has hit in 6 years (I’m proud to say I witnessed the last one he hit in Golden State back in 2003; a video of Yao’s Friday night shot is embedded in my play-by-play synopsis near the bottom of this post).

That shot gave Yao a game-high 23 points on 9-of-11 shooting (along with 8 rebounds and 3 blocks). It’s the kind of shot I always thought Yao should take a bit more because he has the touch, but unfortunately he was brainwashed during the JVG era that he shouldn’t be shooting long jumpers like that. That’s a travesty because no one would ever be able to block it, and it’s a demoralizing shot for the opposition – like it was for Charlotte – when you see a 7’6” center drain one with the game on the line.

Who knows, with everyone in Houston wondering what’s going to be the Rocket’s “go-to play” when the Rockets need a late bucket, could it be like the one Friday night: pick-and-roll with Yao setting the pick, and him just staying put behind the 3-point line (and not dribbling it) so he can launch it if he receives the pass?

As great as that shot was, Yao’s defense Friday night was also good. He held Emeka Okafor to 3-for-11 shooting, and racked up 3 blocks overall.

But Yao wasn’t the only hero. A lot of people, including some in the Houston media, have come down hard on Ron Artest after his poor performance (0-for-8 from 3-point land) against the Lakers Wednesday night, or how he’s playing for a contract, or whatever. Others have questioned his ability to hit big shots down the stretch, and that maybe he isn’t worthy of being a “go-to” option when the Rockets need a bucket late in a game.

Personally, I thought his game against the Lakers was an off-night just like all players are prone to have, including Yao or LeBron James or anyone else. The number of bad nights Artest has had this season are a drop in the bucket compared to those from Tracy McGrady over the past several seasons. And Artest’s exceptional shooting from 3-point land, his tenacity, his continued willingness to attack the basket (something McGrady didn’t do enough), and his toughness, have bought him lots of leeway in my opinion to deal with a few bad games.

Oh yeah, the Rockets are also 11-3 since McGrady exited stage left and got out of Artest’s way so Ron-Ron could become the #2 guy next to Yao.

Well, there may still be questions about Artest’s abilities or anyone else’s, but for one night, he quieted a lot of his critics in the closing moments of a tight game in Charlotte.

After the Rockets imploded down the stretch with 7 turnovers in the fourth quarter and coughed up a 6-point lead with 2 minutes remaining, they needed 2 points in the worst way. They were down 86-85 with 32.6 seconds remaining, and every Rocket fan was wondering who was going to step up to take the big shot?

That person happened to be the “goat” of the Lakers game. Artest finished a dribble with a wicked crossover at the top of the key, made his defender Gerald Wallace fall down because of it, and Artest calmly elevated and drilled a jumper to give the Rockets an 87-86 lead that saved them!

After Raja Bell missed a jumper, Aaron Brooks was intentionally fouled and heroically hit 2 free throws to give the Rockets an 89-86 lead. The game would could down to defending against a sure 3-pointer that could tie the game.

That’s when Artest came up with a huge defensive stop – a block of Vladimir Radmanovic’s 3-pointer that he subsequently stole, took the ball down the court and scored on a layup for the win!

I heard someone the other day say that Artest is the best offensive and defensive “combination” player, or some similar term, in the NBA.

Well, he made a pretty good case on these 2 plays that he’s pretty good on both sides of the ball. What other player in the league constantly comes up with plays like that? Kobe is close, but his defense isn’t as good as Artest’s.

Artest’s game wasn’t perfect, by no means. He made a critical error when he dribbled the ball too much on one possession late that ended up causing a bogus foul to be called on Yao (see play-by-play below for more detail). He also was only 1-of-5 from the field in the first half, but recovered well and finished with 10 points on 5-of-12 shooting.

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Rockets blowout Bobcats for 4th straight win

Monday, February 23rd, 2009
by John

With the Rockets playing the same day as the Oscars were handed out, I was going to make a crack that compared Tracy McGrady’s salary drain on the Rockets with Slumdog Millionaire, but I won’t go there.

Even with team executive Michael Jordan at Toyota Center, the Rockets blew out the 22-34 Charlotte Bobcats 99-78 Sunday afternoon to win their fourth in a row, avoiding suffering the lapses they encountered against sub-par teams so many times before the All-Star break.

The Rockets are now 14 games over .500 for the first time all season at 35-21.

I feel true momentum building here.

Yao Ming only took 6 shots in the first half and made 3 of them. At first it didn’t look like the Rockets would need much of his scoring since they got off to a great start, shooting 55% in the first quarter and opening an 11-point lead in the first half.

Charlotte’s Emeka Okafur had little chance of blocking
Yao Ming’s jumpers and hook shots Sunday afternoon.
Click here for more photos from the game.

But then they hit a dry spell and the Bobcats whittled the lead down to 2 points by halftime, 44-42. That’s when you had to ask yourself if the Rockets were going to go back to their old ways and struggle against teams they should handily beat.

I knew there was no way, though. This team is just too balanced to have that happen again after all the optimism from the past few days. But you never know. That’s why they play the games.

It didn’t take long for them to finally make their statement. Yao Ming was more aggressive to start the 3rd quarter, scoring the first 6 points. He followed that up with a sweet no-look pass in the post over the head of his defender to Shane Battier for a reverse layup, which gave the Rockets a 54-46 lead.

Yao later followed that up with a block of Gerald Wallace, who challenged him by taking it strong to the hole. The blocked ball led to a 3-pointer by Shane on the other end, extending the lead to 61-50. Then less than a minute later Yao threw a long pass from the post across the court to Battier again for his second triple in a row. After that, the Rockets cruised the rest of the way.

After the game, Yao said, “We have some adjustments made at halftime. I think I don’t give them enough pressure in the paint, so I need to be a little more aggressive. Make them play me, make them double-team me, try to find the open man. That’s when I was able to come out and score three shots in a row.”

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More thoughts after 21st straight win

Saturday, March 15th, 2008
by John

Okay, I just spent a few hours on a plane earlier today just going through all my thoughts from last night’s game. Forgive any typos: I’m rushed to get this posted before my next flight takes off. None of these are in any particular order. Just random spewing Larry King style:

* For fans who have been following the Rockets all season, I think we’re too close to understand that this streak is bigger than we fully realize. When ESPN starts Sportscenter off with the Rockets’ streak and Jay Leno mentions it in his monologue, you know this is a much bigger deal than we have even realized…

It’s kind of like “continental drift”…like we’re on this Rocket continent that has been moving slowly along the earth’s crust surrounded by ocean waters toward a climate on the planet that fosters lush vegetation, hitting tectonic plates along the way (Hornets, Mavericks, etc.) to create high-rising mountains on its coasts. Then along come some extra-terrestrials (the mainstream media) who fly overhead, look down from their spaceship and are amazed that this part of the planet can be so fantastic. But to us here in Rocketopia, although we’re extremely grateful for this land of ours and its accomplished leaders – Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming – we realize our land has been great all along its trek, and is what we have come to expect.

* Who would have thought earlier this season that games against sub-.500 Eastern Conference teams in March would be anticipated as much as a playoff game in May?

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Rockets hit blackjack against Bobcats

Saturday, March 15th, 2008
by John

How sweet it is! 21 in a row! The elder statesman of the Rockets, Dikembe Mutombo, hugs Tracy McGrady after a historic game that gave the Rockets the 2nd-longest win streak in NBA history. Unfathomable.

Below, coach Rick Adelman joins his players in a moment of solidarity.

Click here for more photos from the game.

I just can’t get over what is going on with the Rockets. It’s hard for me to go to sleep, yet I know the amount of time it would take for me to write everything I’m thinking would not be good for my health, especially since I have to leave for the airport in the morning. So I hope to post more of my thoughts by late Saturday night after a long day of flying to the West Coast.

Because it’s hard for me to get to bed, I have done something unprecedented to commemorate this momentous occasion. As time-consuming as it is to do after a game, I have uploaded some of the national TV coverage from ESPN talking about the Rockets’ winning streak. Please go to the bottom of this post to see those videos (you might have to click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link). I think you’ll really like them.

But for now, I do have a few things to write:

Never in our lifetime could we see again what we have seen these past several weeks.

The Charlotte Bobcats gave everything they had Friday night to keep the Rockets from making history, a quest to become the 2nd-longest winning streak in league history — 21 in a row.

The fact Houston had to scratch and claw to get an 89-80 win makes getting the record that much sweeter. The players and fans had to sweat out every possession, the players had to overcome a 13-point deficit in the second quarter (their largest deficit during the streak), they overcame poor shooting from the field (40.9%) and very bad free throw shooting (57%), and they faced very underrated superstars in Jason Richardson (28 points) and Emeka Okafor (23 points) who wanted to show they can beat the best.

But Tracy McGrady put on an amazing display of determination and stamina, playing all 48 minutes to score 30 points on 12-of-25 shooting, 7 rebounds, and 4 assists. Without him, the Rockets lose this game. Plain and simple. There were other players who stepped up, who I hope to write about on my next post to give them justice.

But first and foremost, McGrady is playing like Dwyane Wade in the NBA Finals two years ago. It’s such a beautiful thing to witness. A guy who has been much maligned in his career is proving to his critics what he’s made of. I’ve never seen a more determined McGrady in my life. His finest moments have come during this streak.

Rocket fans will never forget this streak, which may come to an end Sunday against the hyped up Lakers, even without Pau Gasol in the lineup because of a sprained ankle from Friday night. Kobe is playing out of his mind, as always. It’s going to be an awesome match-up. A game for the ages.

But a few more thoughts about this historic streak. I am ecstatic the Rockets took care of business and won every game they could have been expected to win before these next 5 games they play against playoff contenders.

I don’t think Rocket fans have felt this good since the Rockets went up 2-0 against Dallas in that playoff series 3 seasons ago. We all know how that turned out. But regardless of what happens this season with the Rockets, they have shown more determination in winning the last 9 games without Yao Ming than I have seen from a Rockets team since 1995.

This game felt like a playoff atmosphere from the beginning. The stands were full and all the fans were into it. If it could only be like that all the time when the Rockets aren’t on big winning streaks.

Okay, below are those videos I recorded from ESPN’s “NBA Fastbreak” show. The first video includes an interview of McGrady after the game in front of Houston’s fans (sounds similar to when they won an NBA championship in ’94 and ’95!) as well as comments from Rick Carlisle, former NBA coach with Indiana and Detroit, who gives massive props to the Rockets (if you just want to read Carlisle’s comments, please see my transcription below the video):

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Yao, McGrady lead comeback win in Charlotte

Sunday, November 11th, 2007
by John
Yao Ming blocks a shot by Charlotte's Raymond Felton Sunday night where Yao recorded 3 rejections on the night.  But Yao did even more damage on the offensive end, hitting 13-of-15 shots and making 8-of-8 free throws to score a season-high 34 points.  He also grabbed 8 rebounds and dished 4 assists in the 85-82 victory. Yao Ming blocks a shot by Charlotte’s Raymond Felton Sunday night where Yao recorded 3 rejections on the night. But Yao did even more damage on the offensive end, hitting 13-of-15 shots and making 8-of-8 free throws to score a season-high 34 points. He also grabbed 8 rebounds and dished 4 assists in the 85-82 victory. Click here to see more photos from the game.

The Rockets had no business winning Sunday night in Charlotte. Except for Yao Ming, who was absolutely fantastic, the Rockets shot poorly, had no production from their bench, and turned the ball over way too many times. But thanks to Tracy McGrady finally taking it to the basket in the fourth quarter (rather than settle for jumpers), and Yao’s consistency throughout the game, the Rockets pulled out an impressive 85-82 come-from-behind victory.

Yao put together a game that makes you think, at this rate, that the league MVP could be a real possibility, just like it was last season before he got hurt. Yao made an incredible 13-of-15 shots to score 34 points, making all 8 of his free throws along the way, including two FTs that put the Rockets up 83-82 with 20.4 seconds left. He also had 8 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 blocks.

It was fun to watch this game because there seemed to be a large contingent of Yao fans in Charlotte, of all places, cheering Yao when he scored, more than most small market arenas that Yao visits.

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Rockets blowout Bobcats

Friday, December 8th, 2006
by John
Yao skies over Charlotte's Emeka Okafor Friday night on his way to 21 points in 25 minutes during a blowout victory over the Bobcats, 92-62.Yao skies over Charlotte’s Emeka Okafor Friday night on his way to 21 points in 25 minutes during a blowout victory over the Bobcats, 92-62. Click here for more photos.

Friday night the Rockets got payback for losing games they should have won against woeful Charlotte the past couple seasons. Sure, the Bobcats were without starting point guard Brevin Knight and Adam Morrison had another awful night shooting (1-of-11 for 2 points), but the Rockets didn’t care.

Last season they lost their only game in Charlotte, and the previous season they lost both games to them within a span of 4 days – losses that eventually affected their playoff seeding and forced them to play a much tougher Dallas Maverick team in the first round. We all know how that turned out.

The Rockets took care of business Friday night, holding the Bobcats to the lowest number of points in their three seasons by a mile (9 points), blowing them out 92-62 and holding them to 28.4% shooting.

The defense is playing like I have never seen before, holding their opponents to more than 4.5 points per game than anyone else in the league. Houston (86.52 ppg) leads San Antonio’s 91.05. Those numbers are incredible. They are second to San Antonio is average point differential per game (9.2 vs. 6.47).

What has really helped those numbers over the last week is that the Rockets held Cleveland to 63 points last Saturday night, then set their franchise record by holding Charlotte to 62 points on Friday night. We bow down to you, Jeff Van Gundy, Shane Battier, and the rest of the team.

What else can you say in a blowout win? There are no complaints from me, and you can’t say anything else to describe it other than “dominant.” Yao (21 points in 25 minutes) and T-Mac (23 points in 27 minutes) hardly played in the fourth quarter where they led by as much as 36 points.

Let’s hope this extra rest helps them in their back-to-back against Washington Saturday night. The rest they got in the fourth quarter against Golden State on Tuesday certainly didn’t help them in their awful performance Wednesday night against the Timberwolves.

Juwan Howard got lots of playing time Friday night and rebounded from his 0-for-5 shooting game against Minnesota by hitting 6-of-11 (12 points) and grabbing 6 rebounds.

The Rockets shared the ball very well, dishing out 14 assists, with T-Mac getting 5 of those. Battier had three assists, and chipped in 3 steals and 6 points. But his defensive job on Morrison was his greatest contribution, which is becoming a common theme against big-time scoreres (e.g. Lebron James).


Click here for the game story.

Sacrifices help Rockets break 7-game losing streak at home

Wednesday, January 25th, 2006
by John

WEDNESDAY, 1/25/06 – This is going to be very short since I have been working tons of hours on a work project that is due in the next couple of days. As a result, I wasn’t able to watch the Rockets play the Charlotte Bobcats Wednesday night, which is a big sacrifice in my book. Wouldn’t you know…once I am not able to watch a Rockets game, they go off and have their biggest margin of victory this season, 102-78, over Charlotte, who have been injury-depleted themselves lately (Emeka Okafor, Gerald Wallace and Kareem Rush).

From what I read, the Rockets made sacrifices themselves with coach Jeff Van Gundy changing many of the locker room rules before the game to replicate the atmosphere the team has while on the road, and where they have a much better record: 11-13 compared to 3-13 at home. Van Gundy took away the hot buffet for their pre-game meal and had it replaced with cold sandwiches. The team lounge was locked. Injured players and ballboys, who normally don’t travel with the team, were not allowed in the locker room or allowed to sit on the bench.

Obviously, it worked. I give credit to Van Gundy for saying he DOES NOT CARE what people think about the changes.

Because the Rockets had a rare blowout victory, T-Mac didn’t have to play the fourth quarter, and still finished with 29 points. Newcomers Lonny Baxter and Chuck Hayes continue to play well, which is very encouraging. Baxter finished with 18 points and 11 rebounds, and Hayes scored 11 and grabbed 8 boards. I don’t remember two new undrafted players making such an impact at the same time on the Rockets in a long time.

It will be interesting to see what happens when many of the Rockets’ injured players are able to return, like Bob Sura, Derek Anderson and Jon Barry. Forgetting the fact that these three guys play guard and Baxter/Hayes play forward…Sura and Barry are near the end of their career, as is Anderson (and who has been a big disappointment this year). Who knows, you might see the Rockets keep these guys on the inactive list, hope they retire in the off-season, and lock up Baxter and Hayes for the remainder of the season and maybe beyond.

Oh well…I have to get back to working on my project. Hopefully the results of my sacrifices this week will turn out the same way as it did for the Rockets Wednesday night.


To see the boxscore from the game, click here.

To read the Houston Chronicle’s article of the game, click here.

Rockets fall in 2 OTs in Charlotte

Tuesday, January 10th, 2006
by John

TUESDAY, 1/10/06 – Man, these summaries are getting hard to write, folks. I thought I was going to have a great story to write tonight, with heroic three-pointers from John Lucas III (his first NBA 3-pointer), Luther Head and Rafer Alston that either kept the game close or tied in a game that went two overtimes.

But with only 9 players active, it was going to be tough to win a game that went this long especially considering the pitiful way the refs were calling this game. By the time the game ended, Juwan Howard and Lonny Baxter had fouled out, leaving the Rockets with only 7 players. In addition, it had to be one of the worst officiated games I have seen in a long time.

Stromile Swift was held out because of a scratched eyeball. Of course, T-Mac is out because of back spasms, and Yao is still a few weeks from returning to action. If they had just one of those players in action, they probably would have won this game considering how scrappy the remaining players performed to keep them in this game. You have to give them credit for not giving up, and it’s nice to see young players like Lucas and Head show what they can do.

The key to losing this game for the Rockets is their failure to come up with rebounds, giving the Hornets many second chances after missed shots. They also failed to cover Primoz Brezec on two consecutive possessions in the second overtime, and he hit wide-open jumpers to stick daggers in Houston’s heart.

Other than that, I’m not going to go into the details of this game. It sucks losing and being 12-21. But I will give props to Juwan Howard for scoring 28 points (20 points in the first half) on 13-of-26 shooting, and grabbing 12 rebounds – although it was Howard who left Brezec open on both of those aforementioned jumpers.

David Wesley had a fine game, scoring 26 points on 8-of-13 shooting. Even Alston’s line in the boxscore looked good: 20 points and 10 assists, although he threw up some bricks late that could have given the Rockets some breathing room.

It’s good that Alston had the line he had tonight since Mike James was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week.

Can we just end this season and start over?


To see the boxscore from the game, click here.