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

Thursday, 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.

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A new era begins with a dramatic win over Dallas

Saturday, February 21st, 2009
by John

I’m filing a late post here because I had to watch the Rockets-Mavs game twice to digest –- and enjoy — the 93-86 win all over again. After all, it’s a new team with McGrady and Rafer out of the picture, Aaron Brooks now the starter at point, and Kyle Lowry his backup. My verdict? I absolutely love this team more than ever.

Yao Ming led all Rockets in scoring with 22 points and 13 boards in a 93-86 victory over Dallas Friday night. Click here for more photos of Yao from the game.

I really think they are going to shock some people the rest of the season. They have so many weapons that play better as a TEAM now that you-know-who is out. They also have become more athletic, the ball doesn’t stop on offense, the defense is better, they play smarter, and the crowd is behind them more than ever now that the cancer and drama are gone from the headlines.

Thank you Mr. Morey. You have made watching the Rockets for the rest of the season something that every Rockets fan wants to check out now, and maybe even wipe the slate clean from all of those disappointing losses against bad teams earlier in the season.

With the “problem player” out of the locker room and off the court, it’s more obvious than ever the Rockets may be even better than the 13-6 record they have had this season when T-Lack doesn’t play.

They also didn’t fold when they fell behind by 16 points in the first quarter to Dallas, fighting hard to get back into the game late in the second quarter, and outscoring the Mavs 30-13 in the third quarter to build a nice lead. They also showed some fortitude by holding off a late charge by Dallas, something that we didn’t see very much in games before the All-Star break.

They may be less experienced without McGrady & Alston, but I say “who cares?” since they immediately upgraded their athleticism. Brooks and Lowry attack the basket more, you can already tell they’re probably better at finishing at the cup than McGrady-Alston, and for being young, you can tell they take smarter shots, especially Aaron.

Brooks finished with 19 points on 7-of-15 shots and hit a 3-pointer with less than 24 seconds remaining to put the game away. Actually, it was his 2nd three-pointer in a row, but who’s counting? He finished 3-of-5 from downtown.

Aaron Brooks reacts to a big 3-pointer he made late in the game against Dallas to seal a big victory. Click here for more photos of Brooks and other Rocket players from the game.

Although Brooks is no stranger to scoring in bunches, it’s got to help his confidence in becoming a go-to shooter in clutch time. Starting guards in this league who can score are also expected to make big shots late in games, and Big Shot Brooks delivered in front of an ESPN national TV audience Friday night.

A.B. also had 6 rebounds and 8 assists. I really think his passing ability is underrated. He can penetrate into the lane at will to draw the defense, then does a good job kicking it out accurately to a shooter.

And did you see that play in the first quarter when he blew by Jason Kidd and a couple of other Mavs for a layup? He may be at a slight disadvantage on defense because he’s small, but he makes his opponents have to play defense, too.

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Yao scores 30, Artest 29 in big win over Big D

Friday, October 31st, 2008
by John

In my mind…Thursday night against the Dallas Mavericks, Yao Ming scored some of the ‘quietest’ 30 points I’ve ever seen in a 112-102 victory at American Airlines Center for the Rockets to go 2-0 on the season.

(Click here for more photos from the game, thanks to Raymond in the forum)

Maybe it was because I had to watch a game in a sports bar and didn’t have access to my statistics over the Internet during the game, thus surprising me when I saw the final boxscore.

But I think a big reason had to be the incredible display that Ron Artest put on. We all knew he was good, but I don’t think many people expected he would be this valuable to the Rockets this fast. Having an injured Shane Battier out of the lineup is requiring Artest to get more playing time than originally intended, and it hasn’t hurt the Rockets too much.

Yao was his usual solid self, shooting 11-of-15 from the field, making a perfect 8-of-8 from the free throw line (he was 9-of-9 Wednesday night in the season opener), and grabbing 13 boards. Amazingly, we’ve almost come to expect these kind of numbers from Yao, which is a sign of his greatness, and hell, might ultimately win him the league MVP if he keeps this up and doesn’t get hurt like in previous seasons.

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Rockets mash Mavs for 17th-straight win

Friday, March 7th, 2008
by John
Tracy McGrady takes it to the rack against Dallas in a game where he relentlessy attacked the rim to score 31 points on 13-of-23 shooting, and also finished with 9 assists and only 1 turnover.  McGrady's 31 led the Rockets to their 17th straight victory in a game on the road against one of their biggest rivals in a convincing 113-98 win.Tracy McGrady takes it to the rack against Dallas in a game where he relentlessy attacked the rim to score 31 points on 13-of-23 shooting, and also finished with 9 assists and only 1 turnover. McGrady’s 31 led the Rockets to their 17th straight victory in a game on the road against one of their biggest rivals in a convincing 113-98 win.

At the end of my post last night I had predicted the following:

“Without Dirk, I don’t think the Mavericks chances are all that great against the very hot and confident Rockets.”

It was probably one of my more bold predictions in quite some time. After all, we’re still talking about the dreaded Mavericks.

I had no idea I would be so right.

The Rockets rolled over arch rival Dallas by exploding in the third quarter for 35 points on 15-of-25 shooting to open an 87-70 lead heading into the fourth quarter, and coasted again to a 113-98 victory. Both Rafer Alston and Tracy McGrady made 5-of-8 shots in the quarter and scored 13 and 11, respectively.

It was such an awesome display of firepower, I had to hit the record button on my DVR to save a sample of the “clinic” the Rockets have been running during this win streak.

I also loved hearing through the telecast the smattering of Rocket fans among the Dallas crowd roaring from the rafters as the Rockets made play after play. Like the 8 points on fast breaks they ran, the alley-oop from Alston he threw just inside the half-court line to McGrady for the throw-down, and Carl Landry‘s powerful scores around the basket, just to name a few examples.

Hearing those roars was music to my ears since I was at that Game 7 playoff back in 2005 where the Rockets lost by 40-points to lose that series. I wish I could have been there Thursday night to exercise some of my own personal demons. Houston is now a more comfortable 2 ½ games ahead of Dallas in the standings.

McGrady would finish Thursday night with 31 points on 13-of-23 shots, 9 assists and only 1 turnover. He was constantly double-teamed by the Mavericks, and he made them pay by dishing dimes all over the place to teammates for open shots. In essence, he’s finding the open man out of double-teams (like Carl Landry several times) in Yao-like fashion. And when he wasn’t passing the ball, he attacked the basket more than any other game I can remember. I absolutely love it when he does that. He has really matured this season.

Alston finished with 24 points on 10-of-21 (2-of-7 from 3-point land), 4 assists, 2 steals and zero turnovers.

Of course, this was the Rockets’ 17th straight victory, and their 8th consecutive victory with double-digit point differentials.

TNT announcer and NBA legend Reggie Miller had this interesting quote about the constant energy the Rockets showed during the game:

“It’s rare to see so many hard work players on a particular NBA team.”

If they keep playing like this, you’ve got to like their chances, even against the highly-favored LA Lakers or Spurs in the West. I bet you a million bucks the Rockets aren’t afraid of them, but are looking forward to the challenge to show these teams and the rest of the world what they have.

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Some thoughts after Saturday night’s loss, and outlook for the rest of the season

Monday, December 17th, 2007
by John

Because of travel and other commitments over the weekend, I was finally able to watch Saturday night’s game against Dallas. We all know most of the Rockets had a tough time hitting shots, which is par for the course in this season of underachievement. But there are many other problems with this team. The biggest thing that stood out to me during Saturday night’s game was the poor play of Steve Francis, who started in place of the injured 0-fer Alston.

Francis not only missed 7-of-8 shots and turned the ball over 5 times, but it was the way he turned them over. There were a couple of possessions where he either dribbled it out of bounds, or it was easily stolen, like by Dallas’ Devin Harris.

Even Francis had to admit how poorly he played, when he said the following:

“Yeah, it was really tough. For me, it was really embarrassing coming back playing and having five turnovers. The timing for myself wasn’t very good and it kind of snowballs when your point guard turns the ball over. That’s really going to hurt your team.”

Hey, if a player swallows his pride and ego and admits he was awful like Francis did, then you won’t see me piling on. That’s what I call taking responsibility. You’ve got to have hope that since he realizes it was an embarrassing performance, he has a chance to work back from it. That’s the kind of guy you really want to pull for, and shows his increased level of maturity compared to his first go-round with the Rockets.

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Yao carries the load with 28, but it’s not enough in loss to Mavs

Sunday, December 16th, 2007
by John

As many of you know, I wasn’t able to watch the Rockets-Mavericks game on Saturday night, but Raymond posted some photos of the game in the forum, like this one:

Click here and here if you’re interested in seeing more photos from the game.

As I anticipated, I didn’t miss much since the Rockets lost again, this time 96-83. Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle writes in this story how bad it was, except for Yao Ming‘s 28 points, 14 rebounds, and 3 blocks.

Meanwhile, Tracy McGrady made only 5-of-18 shots for 12 points, while Steve Francis (who started in place of the injured Rafer Alston) was 1-of-8 for three points.

This is really pathetic. From what I’m guessing, rookie Aaron Brooks will be getting some important playing time soon, especially since the Rockets called him up from the D-League.

So I’m glad I didn’t see the game. However, I did record it, and I will try to watch it remotely using my computer and give my supplemental thoughts about the debacle sometime late Sunday, time permitting. Or I may be so disgusted by what I see, I may turn it off and say, “screw it, I’ve seen enough.”

Rockets blow another one, losing streak now at five games

Wednesday, November 21st, 2007
by John
Yao Ming goes up for a shot against the Dallas Mavericks Wednesday night.  Yao's numbers were phenomenal: 30 points, 15 rebounds, 6 blocks.  But the Rockets blew a big lead and lost another one in the clutch, this time to Dallas.Yao Ming goes up for a shot against the Dallas Mavericks Wednesday night. Yao’s numbers were phenomenal: 30 points, 15 rebounds, 6 blocks. But the Rockets blew a big lead and lost another one in the clutch. Click here for more photos from the game.

The Rockets choked another game away, blowing a 17-point lead in the third quarter and a 5-point lead with 1:40 remaining, this time to Dallas on national TV. I knew it was going to happen even when they were up by 17. Now that’s pretty pathetic when you know the Rockets are going to blow a lead that big. I wasn’t happy with what I saw as the lead started disintegrating. This choke job was inevitable. Choke City II, anyone?

I’m furious about this loss because this Rockets team hasn’t changed one bit from last year’s team that blew a nice lead against Utah in Game 7 of last year’s playoffs.

I’m not going to hold back like the Houston Chronicle columnists probably have to do because they are getting paid to write professionally, whereas I’m a blogger that doesn’t get paid one cent to do what I do, so I’m beholden to no one. I’m going to let it fly, so forgive me if it sounds like I’m a kid ranting in a discussion forum, or if I have typos. Like that famous line from a movie, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more.”

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Rockets hang close to Mavericks, but can’t get it done

Monday, November 5th, 2007
by John
Yao Ming throws one down over Juwan Howard in the first half of the Rockets-Mavericks game Monday night.  Yao finished with 21 points on 9-of-12 shooting, and 11 rebounds in a heartbreaking loss to the Mavericks 107-98.Yao Ming throws one down over Juwan Howard in the first half of the Rockets-Mavericks game Monday night. Yao finished with 21 points on 9-of-12 shooting, and 11 rebounds in a heartbreaking loss to the Mavericks 107-98. Click here to see more photos from the game.

I’ve got a lot of work to do tonight, so I hope this is short. Let me just say I’ve read the articles on the Houston Chronicle site about this game, and I’m going to point out a different perspective for you if you’ve read those. I’m coming at you with a DVR remote in my hand that just played back a lot of replays frame by frame.

I can respect what the writers for the Chronicle have stated about the Rockets folding down the stretch in their game against Dallas, which Houston lost 107-98. I can also respect the players and Rick Adelman saying they didn’t make plays when they should have. All of that is true.

But let me just say this. This game was an entertaining horse race played between two good teams, BUT THE DAMN REFS HAD A HUGE INFLUENCE ON THE OUTCOME OF THIS GAME!

The refs blew at least 4 calls in the fourth quarter against the Rockets, and I’ll give the writers for this game a break since they probably didn’t have access to replay–or the time to review each play–to see just how much the game turned on these calls.

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Mavs make shots and win as Rocket offense bogs down in 2nd half

Friday, February 16th, 2007
by John

I had to watch most of the Rockets-Mavs game from an airport sports bar TV Thursday night. Because my flight was late in departing, I got to see most of the game until about the 6:16 mark in the fourth quarter when Dirk Nowitzki hit a three-pointer to put the Mavericks ahead 72-69. That was his second three-pointer in a row, and leading up to that point, Dallas had made a furious 12-0 run in the third quarter to take away the Rockets’ hope that they could coast to a victory against their arch rivals.

It was sickening how the Rockets could hardly hit a bucket in that third quarter (only 3-of-13!), very reminiscent of their game in Dallas last week when the Mavs went on a 16-0 run to suck the life out of the Rockets on their way to a blowout victory.

Also sickening was how the Rockets squandered opportunities before those two Nowitzki three-pointers, missing 5 free throws in the 4th quarter alone before those buckets. Juwan Howard missed two free throws after a great hustle play by Chuck Hayes where he sprinted from behind to catch Jason Terry, knock the ball away, leading to a Houston fast break where Howard got fouled in the act of shooting.

T-Mac had missed 3 free throws at that point, precious points the Rockets couldn’t afford to squander when you have to play almost perfectly to beat a 43-9 team like Dallas.

Like I mentioned earlier, after Dirk hit his second trey and the Mavericks had all the momentum now leading 72-69, I had to stop watching the game and jump on my plane. It was an interesting position for me because I cannot ever remember NOT watching a game when it comes down to the wire. So I thought it would be interesting to predict what would happen. Since I was on the plane to the point I’m writing this, I don’t know what the outcome of the game is, so here’s my prediction.

“I predict the Rockets will continue to fall behind after having their ego crushed yet again by another Maverick comeback. They will make a valiant effort to stay in the game, but will continue to miss big shots down the stretch, including more missed free throws, while the Mavericks continue to make theirs and show why they have the league’s best record. The Rockets will lose and will be lamenting all the blown opportunities, including those huge missed free throws in the fourth.”

After I got home and watched the recording, I was able to see if my prediction was correct. I was partly correct. Here’s what happened:

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Rockets destroyed in Big D…again

Saturday, February 10th, 2007
by John

I was so looking forward to the Rockets-Mavs game Friday to really see where the Rockets stand as a team. Are they really as good as that 31-17 record indicates, or just pretenders and have a lot of work to do before they can even consider winning a championship?

That question was answered quite profoundly Friday night. The Rockets have a long way to go, losing 95-74 in a game reminiscent of that 40-point blowout in Game 7 of the Rockets-Mavs playoff series a couple of seasons ago. The bright side is that at least this time I had the wisdom to NOT attend this game.

In fact, for the first time in a long time, I turned off the game in the third quarter when Dallas went on a 16-0 run, 13 of those coming in just under 2 minutes to put the game out of reach. It was a complete disaster.

Luther Head kept turning the ball over (4 for the game, most on the team). Rafer Alston went back to his inconsistent self in the third quarter, driving into the lane and missing easy layups to help Dallas extend their scoring run and pull away. But you know it’s bad when Alston’s 6-for-13 shooting for 14 points was one of the best on the team.

Shane Battier was 1-of-9 (5 points). Juwan Howard was 3-of-9 for 11. Luther was 1-of-8, and 0-of-4 from three-point land. And Kirk Snyder was 1-of-7. Tracy McGrady was 7-of-16 with 20 points, which wasn’t bad, but he missed lots of shots in that pivotal third quarter before sitting out the fourth quarter. As a team, they shot 33%. Just as bad, they were outrebounded 55-40.

Even worse, they got rattled once Dallas started putting on the pressure in the third quarter, just like they did 2 years ago in that Game 7 I mentioned earlier, and extending their lead to 29 at one point. At least T-Mac admitted their softness after the game, “When things got tough, we folded…You just have to have heart, man. You just have to want it. Each individual. You can’t coach that.”

Now it’s almost not fair that Dallas has had virtually no injuries this year while the Rockets have had Yao out for 6 weeks and counting, and their X-factor-to-be off the bench, Bonzi Wells (well, he is one of their best bench players), had to sit out because of a sore back.

You know those two guys would have made a big difference, but still, the Mavericks are too fast and deep for the Rockets. But that’s what a huge payroll will help do for you.

What has to happen now is that the Rockets cannot be content to be good against the average teams and cupcakes. Every player has to ask, “Who is my counterpart on the Dallas team, and how can I get better than them, or at least close, if we face them in the playoffs?” A 21-point blowout instead of a 40-point one is not considered progress enough.

You can read more about the carnage in this Houston Chronicle game story.