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Rockets grind up Grizzlies; transcript of presser with Rockets’ GM and team doctor on Yao

Saturday, December 18th, 2010
by John

I went to the Rockets-Grizzlies game Friday night, which was a blowout the Rockets won going away 103-87. It wasn’t even that close as the Rockets got off to a hot start, opening up an incredible 30-point lead early in the second quarter. Kevin Martin was incredible, scoring 22 points in the first quarter. Kyle Lowry scored 15 points and had a career-high 16 assists, along with 5 steals through 3 quarters.

Of course, the big news was the announcement today that Yao is done for the season, which is no surprise, and the press conference the Rockets had before the game with Rockets’ team doctor Dr. Walter Lowe and Rockets’ GM Daryl Morey.

Rather than spend time writing about the blowout victory, I went ahead and typed up the press conference transcript the Rockets provided the media before the game. Here are some quotes that didn’t appear in some of the major news stories about the press conference.

Dr. Walt Lowe:

On the likelihood that Yao Ming can play again without future stress fractures: “I think that’s a question that doesn’t have an answer. Probably. A stress fracture, as you guys know, has to heal and the thing about this is different is this is related to an injury fairly recently and so I think that’s a question that just doesn’t have an answer.”

On talking to Yao Ming about the injury: “We’re saying ‘Hey Yao, you know, this needs to get treated.’ We’re talking to the foot and ankle guys about getting it treated and about the appropriate courses with that. So it needs to get treated. It needs to heal. It needs to be rehabbed right, brought back right, all those things. Is this something that I would say, hey, you’ve got no chance of every playing again, no, absolutely not.”

On what needs to be done to heal Yao’s injury: “Well, the usual case with this would be surgery. It’s a stress fracture and its in a location that the typical course (would be surgery). Has that decision been made yet, no. But the usual medial stress fracture is one that you would fix (with surgery).”

On if this year’s injury is a result of last year’s injury: “Well, last year was an osteotomy of his foot to make it flatter and help distribute the stresses more. But, I think you have to say, yeah, this is related to the previous issues Yao has had with his foot and the surgeries he’s had.”

More details on last year’s surgery relating to this year’s injury: “Well, it is a transfer of stresses that this big osteotomy moved his heel bone around to shift them into a different place and now his body has to take those new stresses to a new area. So, anytime they do something to change it or you see something else come from it, I don’t see any way you can say it’s not related to it.”

On if this will increase the likelihood of future stress fractures on Yao’s foot: “Well, when you look at the course of Yao’s career, stress fractures have been a part of his foot. To say he’s not at a risk to continue to have stress fractures would be crazy. So he is at a continued risk. The new position of his foot should unload his foot and make those stresses lower. We still have this injury back in Washington as a part of this injury to factor into it.”

On if this new injury needs “restructuring” surgery like his previous injury from last year: “No. No, this is a fracture that’s not displaced, so it’s still anatomically located and it’s one to provide fixation so it won’t displace and at the same time create a healing response inside that fracture, so it will heal. So it’s not a corrective osteotomy or moving his foot around, it’s just fixing it where it is.”

On how bad this stress fracture really is: “I don’t think there’s any word for it. I think no one is happy that Yao has any stress fracture for sure. At the same time if you ask me is this better or worse than having another navicular stress fracture, I’d say I’d rather have this one than that one. There have been stress fractures that guys have come back from in this league, too.”

On if this injury was already present when Yao was injured back in Washington: “I think it’s manifested itself since then. This was sort of an ankle sprain with bone bruising it sounds like. The MRI done up in Indianapolis, then brought back here and then really not progressing from a rehab standpoint which stimulated the new studies done yesterday that revealed a stress fracture.”

On if the fracture was hidden by the bone bruise: “You know it should not. A bone bruise is basically fluid or adema in bone and you can see fracture lines in that adema and you see those all the time with fractures. So, I don’t think it’s somewhat fluid in the bone obscured the fracture at all, you would see that.”

On if this fracture occurred sometime between the two MRIs: “Well, it manifested itself as a stress fracture, so it progressed to the point between the two MRI’s, yes.”

Daryl Morey

On if he is concerned about Yao ever returning: “Well, I think, as the doctor said, this is an injury that players come back from. We’re still gathering data to know on the likelihood and the prognosis. I think that’s something we’re still learning. I think it is too soon to know where we go from here, exactly, with Yao Ming.”

On how it will affect his plans this season without Yao Ming: “Well, I think , overall we’ve been preparing for this possibility, obviously as doctor said and we’ve talked to Dr. Lowe and Dr. Clanton and all the folks. Also Dr. Yazuki, close to working with Yao Ming. We’ve obviously known he’s (Yao Ming) been prone to possible future inures. So, as you can tell in our preparation, our signings, our trades, our draft picks. We’ve prepared a team to sort of work with Yao Ming and work without, both at a player level and mentality level. I think we have a very resilient group. They’ve been able to fight through injuries and have had winning seasons without both Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady last year. This year obviously we’re gonna have Yao Ming for mostly not this whole season. We feel like we have a resilient group to work for guys that can fight through injuries and we feel like we’ve got a young team that each day they play, they’re better than the day before. Not a team that’s declining but a team that’s improving.

Dr. Lowe:

On if there is any way Yao may not need surgery: “Sure. Stress fractures do heal with prolonged periods of unloading and crutches and non-laboring and those kind of things. So I think those things all have to be debated with Yao and sort of go through the whole process like you would with anybody that needs or should have a surgical procedure. I’d say yes, there’s a potential it would, but the likelihood that fixing it would lead to more certainty in it healing and also much quicker.”

On if this injury has any acute issues with it: “No, this definitely has no acute issues associated with it. So, I think there’s plenty of time to get all the bright minds of foot and ankle in the country together and look at it and talk to Yao and come up with a course of treatment that his doctors and Yao both believe in.”

On what kind of rest Yao should take after this injury: “I’m not the foot and ankle guy, which is okay. But, at the same time I do think the suggestion or the usual course of action for this particular stress fracture, which is a vertical fracture through the medial malleolus is that it would be fixed. I think that’s the smartest course of action. I’d put it in one of those 4-6 month recoveries. For a stress fracture to heal completely, it should take that 3-4 month period, and then there’s, as you saw with some other things in Yao, a very slow, progressive return to higher and higher unloading. So, that’s for sure in that 4-6 month window after it’s fixed.

On what Yao’s rehab would look like: “In the foot there’s not a lot of rehab. It’s range of motion, strengthening of the tendons that surround it, so it’s not as complicated of a rehab as a knee or a shoulder or some of the things you guys see fairly frequently out there. What has to happen in the foot is healing because the foot is skin, bones and tendons, so it doesn’t have a lot of muscles surrounding it. Those things that lead to a more vibrant healing anatomy. So you have to let it heal. You have to keep the motion. You have to get the swelling down. Then after the healing is there, you have to progressively load. That means there’s partial weight bearing, then more weight bearing, the same process you guys have seen him go through before. There’s not a cookbook protocol that says after this fracture you do this on Day 1, Day 2, Day 3. It’s a very progressive loading and the bigger the guys are, the more issues there have been with stress fractures or related issues, the slower you would go in that progressive loading process.”

Daryl Morey:

On Yao’s future: “I think until we learn more, we still see Yao Ming as the potential future of our team. We need to continue to talk to the doctors and see where that goes. So obviously Yao Ming is an All-Star center and if you look throughout the league, there’s not many of them. If it looks like there’s a good prognosis here and we’re still learning how good that prognosis will be, for sure we’re going to look at Yao Ming past this season.”

On Yao’s spirit: “I think he’s appropriately taking a step back and saying I want to hear all of my options and all the facts. That hasn’t happened yet. Doctors like Dr. Lowe, Dr. Yakuzi, Dr. Clanton, they’re all still conferring and he’ll get multiple opinions before he takes a course of action. I think he’s obviously taking the news hard just like we are, just like Rockets fans, just like everybody. I think for those who know Yao Ming, like many in this room, when there’s tough news, he sort of cracks jokes and things like that. He was doing that yesterday. He’s in good spirits. I think obviously when he’s not around others I’m sure it’s pretty tough to digest this news. As much as he’s been off the court and how much he cares about his teammates, the fans and the Rockets, it’s probably pretty tough for him.”

On how big of a setback this is for the Rockets: “Well, I think we’ve been, as we’ve said, preparing for this as well as we can. I think you need great players in this league to win. We’ve got a lot of players we believe in on this team. Yao Ming is very unique. There’s no Yao Ming store that we can go to to get another one with his abilities. So, it’s definitely a setback. It’s definitely a setback that we don’t have him this season. We felt like this season, where we could make this a special season was Yao Ming comes back and people step up on our team. Maybe there was a move that’s made and felt like we could really make some noise this season. We still feel like we’re a team that can make the playoffs this season. We feel like we’re fighting with about 4 or 5 other teams for the 7th or 8th seed this season. I know our guys in the locker room aren’t writing this season off. I know I’m not. I know Coach Adelman isn’t. We still think this can be a great season. Obviously the news yesterday was negative, it wasn’t positive.”

Houston follows up Laker win with an even better game statistically

Saturday, December 4th, 2010
by John

The Rockets did something Friday night they hadn’t done all season long: win a game after winning an even bigger game. In other words: not have a letdown.

Two days after beating the Lakers, the Rockets went to Memphis for another test of their mettle. That’s because on 3 different occasions this season they had let us down, not showing up when we thought they had turned the corner. Remember these games?

– Nov. 7th – Houston blows out Minnesota for their first win of the season, then loses to a bad Washington Wizard team
– Nov. 24th – A big win against Golden State to stop a 4-game losing streak, followed by a bad loss in Charlotte
– Nov. 28th – A great victory against Oklahoma City, then blown out by Dallas

The Rockets finally delivered with a win after a big win by beating Memphis 127-111, scoring more points against Memphis than any other team had done this season. And they did it in ways that we had seen with other great Houston teams: amazing 3-point shooting (16-of-23 for 70% shooting) and shooting overall (60% for the game). We know these are fluky stats that we won’t see again anytime soon and will just come out of the blue, especially since coach Rick Adelman didn’t even expect it based on this post-game quote:

“You’re always going to be surprised when you have an offense run like that, especially when we couldn’t make a shot in shootaround. So, maybe we saved it for the right time.”

What they DID get that’s more sustainable over the long-term were performances from players we have expected great things from this season.

Kyle Lowry scored 28 points against his former team, hitting 11-of-15 from the field and 4-of-5 from 3-point land for 28 points. Hitting 4-of-5 is incredible considering Lowry had only made 8 of 31 shots (26%) from behind the arc for the season. He balanced out that long-range shooting by scoring 12 of his points in the paint. Lowry also had 12 assists, which tied his career high.

December 3rd, 2010 - Kyle Lowry scores two of his career-high 28 points against the Memphis Grizzlies
Kyle Lowry scores two of his career-high 28 points against the Grizzlies.  Click here for more photos from the game.

Lowry’s backcourt mate Kevin Martin delivered with numbers we expected from him when he was acquired: 28 points on 11-of-15 shots, and 5-of-6 on three-pointers. Getting 56 points from your backcourt is reminiscent of what the great teams in the NBA can get.

Brad Miller proved how great of an acquisition we thought he would be with 23 points on 7-of-7 shots, including 3-of-3 from long range. There’s not much more you can ask from your backup center in just 24 minutes of play. Luis Scola was a solid 6-of-11 for 15 points. Courtney Lee had one of his best games of a Rocket, hitting 7-of-9 shots for 16 points. Even former Grizzly Shane Battier had another great game shooting following up his awesome game against the Lakers with 12 points on 4-of-8 shots, making 2-of-3 three-pointers.

The only player left out of the party was Chase Budinger, who was just 1-for-5 from the field for 3 points. But in the long run, these things tend to even out, and there will come a day where Chase will bail out his teammates with hot shooting like Lowry and the other players did Friday night.

Having passed the test of winning a game after a big victory over a team like the Lakers, Houston fans are now looking to see if the Rockets can do it again, this time against Chicago on a back-to-back facing one of their toughest match-ups in the league: Derek Rose, who lit them up for 33 points last time. Carlos Boozer is also back in the line-up, but the Bulls have lost 3 of their last 4 games. Fortunately, Kevin Martin has averaged 26 points in his last 3 games in Chicago.

Rockets get revenge against Griz

Sunday, March 8th, 2009
by John

The Grizzlies may have beaten the Rockets in their second and third matchups this season along with their bench outscoring Houston’s 109-54 in those games, but I knew before their final game Sunday night that it was going to be payback. Memphis had their young studs like Rudy Gay, O.J. Mayo and Mike Conley rolling in those games, but this time I knew the Rockets’ young guns were going to get payback.

Aaron Brooks, Carl Landry, Von Wafer
and former Grizzly Kyle Lowry all came through with strong games (32 points in total) Sunday night. Throw in the consistency of double-doubles from Yao Ming (24 points on 9-of-13 shots, 17 boards), Luis Scola (18 points, 14 boards), Ron Artest (13 points on 5-of-10 shots), and a little bit of swagger playing at home where they had won 11 in a row, and you get a 93-83 victory for the Rockets.

Yao Ming blocks the shot of Marc Gasol, one of 3 blocks that Yao racked up during a win. Click here for more photos from the game.

Houston led 28-19 after the first quarter, by 18 points after the 2nd and 3rd quarters, and it was just matter of time before the Rockets put the game away so Brian Cook and Brent Barry could get into the game for garbage time at the 4:27 mark with Houston up by 25 points.

Those 2 losses earlier in the season really hurt, but this win puts a little salve on the wound.

In the first loss to Memphis in December, the Rockets’ defense was terrible, Artest didn’t play, and Luther Head was 1-for-8.

In the second loss on February 4th, the Rockets’ defense was bad again, especially in defending Mayo (32 points) and giving up 53.3% shooting. On offense, McGrady was 0-for-5 from 3-point land, Artest only scored 5 points on 1-of-10 shooting, Wafer had only 5 points, Landry didn’t score, and Brooks didn’t play.

It’s amazing how much has changed for the Rockets since then. It’s like they’re a different team, having gotten younger with the aforementioned young guns, and no longer having two players in the lineup who were like a box of chocolates, wondering what you’re going to get.

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Rockets get a bad serving of Mayo in sickening loss

Thursday, February 5th, 2009
by John

Note: I just changed the headline to the above for my post from last night. It’s so appropriate considering O.J. Mayo went off on them, the loss was pathetic, and both Aaron Brooks and Yao Ming had a stomach flu…

Let’s face it. Everyone is sick of the inconsistency of the Rockets. All the fans, the players, the coach, the front office, the media, you name it. After the Rockets lost their second game this season to the woeful Memphis Grizzlies, one of the worst teams in the league, the Rockets have reached a new low with a 104-93 loss Wednesday night.

Houston has now lost 7 games this season to teams that have had some of the worst records in the league: Memphis (2), Indiana, the Clippers, Washington, and Philadelphia (2).

They are also only a pathetic 14-13 against teams with losing records, and 14-7 with winning records.

Yao Ming tries to defend against O.J. Mayo who constantly blew by Rocket defenders on his way to scoring 32 points. Click here for more photos from the game.

Entering Wednesday night, The Grizzlies were a 12-35 team that had lost 7 consecutive HOME games, and had lost 12 in a row before winning Monday night on the road against a terrible Washington team. They are so bad, hardly anyone in Memphis is showing up for their games. There were tons of empty seats in the lower bowl the whole game, drawing only about 10,000 fans.

The radio talk show lines are burning up in Houston, and the natives are restless. I’ve seen it before, and I can just about guarantee that “change is coming,” to borrow a phrase used often over the past few months.

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Rockets win season opener: Yao scores game-high 21

Thursday, October 30th, 2008
by John

I’ve been pretty quiet on this blog over the past few weeks, with me intentionally not getting too involved with the details of the preseason Rockets, and instead focusing more of my time on work, as well as the election. Like many of you, I’m not a big fan of the preseason – it’s way too long and not indicative of how the regular season will turn out for most teams.

But something magical has happened over the 24 hours. The juices started to flow in anticipation of Wednesday night’s regular season opener for the Rockets against the Memphis Grizzlies. It’s now time to get serious as the Rockets prepare to launch a winning campaign of their own with their new running mate, Ron Artest. [Click here for Raymond’s photos from the excitement of opening night].

It wasn’t pretty, but the Rockets overcame a disjointed offense to win 82-71 with their defense — ironically the thing that concerned them the most at the end of the preseason. The 11-point margin makes it seem like a bigger win than it really was. It was much closer.

Houston’s defense made an early statement against the Grizzlies offense when they stole the ball 3 times in their first four possessions, with Ron Artest getting two of them. This display before their very eyes of one of the league’s most celebrated defensive players whipped the fans in Toyota Center into a frenzy as the Rockets took an early 7-0 lead. I myself couldn’t contain my excitement as I envisioned what an extra 2 or 3 steals per game from Artest will mean to the the Rockets’ cuse this season.

The lead expanded to 11-2 thanks to an active Yao Ming grabbing two offensive boards for a tip-in and dunk.

Yao’s performance Wednesday night would remind everyone just how much he was missed during last season’s playoff series loss against the Utah Jazz. Anytime you take out of the lineup a game-high 21 points, 10 rebounds and 9-of-9 shooting from the free throw line like Yao had Wednesday night, you’re not going to be near as competitive against a playoff team like Utah.

Click here for more photos from the game.

Welcome back, Yao. We’re glad to have you.

Houston looked like they were well on their way to a blowout against a young Memphis team after building a 26-18 first quarter lead. But then Houston’s offense went south with Houston’s second unit getting more action, hitting only 4-of-21 field goals in the second quarter for 17 points, and scoring only 15 points in the third.

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Rockets grind up Grizzlies to sweep February

Saturday, March 1st, 2008
by John
Yao Ming talks with Tracy McGrady before the Rockets try to win their 14th game in a row that would give the team an undefeated record for February.  'Mission accomplished' as Houston soundly beat the Grizzlies 116-95.  Earlier in the day, Yao Ming flew to Charlotte, North Carolina to get a second opinion of his injury from another doctor, then returned the same day to cheer his team to victory.Yao Ming talks with Tracy McGrady before the Rockets try to win their 14th game in a row that would give the team an undefeated record for February. ‘Mission accomplished’ as Houston soundly beat the Grizzlies 116-95. Earlier in the day, Yao Ming flew to Charlotte, North Carolina to get a second opinion of his injury from another doctor, then returned the same day to cheer his team to victory. Click here for more photos of Yao before the game.

There’s something about this Houston Rockets team that is unique from many previous editions. For example, there was a time when you had to get nervous about them reaching a milestone (like winning all the games in a month, or lay claim to the longest winning streak in an NBA season), even against a poor team like Memphis. Like most Houston teams (except for a few exceptions), they just couldn’t stand too much prosperity, right?

Not these Rockets. Houston took care of business and put the Memphis Grizzlies away early by exploding with a fast break offense, and clamping down on defense to take leads of 14-0, 20-2, and to lead 37-17 by the end of the first quarter. After that, the Rockets cruised to a 116-95 victory to win their 14th game in a row.

Since the 1991-92 season, only five other NBA teams have won all their games in a month. They also beat Portland’s 13-game winning streak earlier this season. Houston’s victory Friday night positions the Rockets to tie a franchise record of 15 in a row Sunday night against Denver.

The way the Rockets are playing, you’ve got to be as confident as you can be they will deliver on tying that record as well as break the franchise record against Indiana on Wednesday March 5th.

All this success lately makes you take a look back at all the acquisitions and draft picks the Rockets have made to build their current roster, and how almost all of them have turned out as good as could be expected. It would be hard to name one player who has underachieved during this 14-game streak. From Yao to Luis Scola to Carl Landry to Dikembe Mutombo, all the way down to Aaron Brooks and Steve Novak (too numerous to name everyone).

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Rockets’ balanced scoring mauls Memphis

Friday, December 28th, 2007
by John
Yao Ming shoots over Memphis' Stromile Swift and Pau Gasol on his way to 22 points on 9-of-15 shooting in a convincing Rockets victory over the Grizzlies.  Yao also finished with 12 rebounds and 5 blocks.Yao Ming shoots over Memphis’ Stromile Swift and Pau Gasol on his way to 22 points on 9-of-15 shooting in a convincing Rockets victory over the Grizzlies. Yao also finished with 12 rebounds and 5 blocks.

What else can be said other than the obvious? Although they were playing against a struggling 8-20 Memphis team, the Rockets played very well Friday night in the absence of the injured Tracy McGrady, and beat the Grizzlies soundly 103-83.

It was another good performance by the Rockets without McGrady around (remember the 2OT game against Denver last week where the Rockets played pretty well?), and you’ve got to think it’s not just a coincidence.

As much as I see on Internet Web sites comments from Rocket fans saying McGrady should be traded, I have been a little more conservative on that notion (shocking, huh?) because I have thought if McGrady doesn’t go crazy with stupid jump shots, he can still be a very effective weapon.

But I think there is something even better that’s happening when the Rockets play without him. Unlike last year, other players now seem to be stepping up in his absence. Part of the reason is because the talent on this roster that the front office has assembled seems much more comfortable stepping out from behind McGrady’s shadow.

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Supporting cast and Yao take care of Grizzlies

Thursday, December 6th, 2007
by John
Yao Ming throws down a one-handed tomahawk jam in the first half of the Rockets game against the Memphis Grizzlies.  After 3 days off to rest and prepare, the Rockets' team shooting improved to 51% for the game for the W.Yao Ming throws down a one-handed tomahawk jam in the first half of the Rockets game against the Memphis Grizzlies. After 3 days off to rest and prepare, the Rockets’ team shooting improved to 51% for the game for the W. Click here for more photos from the game.

I had to work late on Wednesday night that overlapped with the Rockets-Grizzlies game. Then when I got home to watch the game on my DVR, I got sick to where I’m not able to write a full report like I normally do. But I’ll try to gut this one out.

After losing to the Grizzlies on November 13th in Memphis, the Rockets got some payback by easily defeating the Grizzlies 105-92 on Wednesday night in Houston. I was a bit concerned the Rockets would come out lethargic, similar to the last time the Rockets had 3 days off and didn’t look like they had done any preparation in a loss to Dallas on November 21st.

The big key to this victory was the re-emergence of Bonzi Wells (24 points on 11-of-14 shooting), who many people, including myself, had written off that perhaps he was going to sprial downward the rest of the season.

Bonzi was phenomenal in the second quarter when he scored 12 points, and looked like the same Bonzi who had destroyed the Spurs in the fifth game of the season. Although he had shorter guards trying to guard him Wednesday night, he still looked like a totally different player from the guy who had been missing so many shots during his slump lately.

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Rockets revert to last year’s look in disheartening loss to Memphis

Wednesday, November 14th, 2007
by John

The Rockets went back to their old style of play Tuesday night in a 105-99 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. I swear, if Rick Adelman hadn’t been seen on the bench, I would have thought I was watching the 2006-07 version of the Rockets, but this time with a worse defense.

Before I start talking about the Rockets’ offensive struggles, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a bad defensive effort where the Rockets couldn’t stop the likes of Mike Miller (6-of-11 for 17 points), Pau Gasol (26 points on 6-of-11 from the field, 14-of-17 from the line), Darko Milicic (20 points on 9-of-14 shooting), and Rudy Gay (6-of-11 for 15 points). Memphis was 1-4 team before Tuesday night. They looked like an All-Star squad considering how easy it was for them to make baskets.

I had hoped the Rockets could have made a run at signing Milicic this off-season, but the price tag was way too high. Alot of people like to think that Milicic is a stiff because he never got off the bench at Detroit and people made fun of him since he was such a high draft pick, but that was mainly because the Pistons were a championship team his rookie year, and also because Larry Brown was being too JVG-like and not giving the rookie some playing time. Now he’s proving alot of people were wrong about him. I digress. At least the Rockets got Luis Scola, but Scola’s transition to the NBA game doesn’t appear it’s going to happen overnight. He needs more time, just like Milicic needed.

Sorry to say it, but a couple of times Yao Ming got caught napping on defense, like when he allowed Milicic to make a strong move into the lane for a hook shot without much resistance, and then in the fourth quarter Yao easily could have pinned Stromile Swift under the basket after Swift had grabbed an offensive rebound underneath the boards. But Yao let Swift off the hook by jumping up into the air on a pump fake, thus giving Swift the little room he needed to go up and put a shot off the glass for a very important basket in a tight game.

Not that I want to harp on Yao for this loss. He made 7-of-12 shots and hit all 8 of his free throws to score 22 points. He was the least of the Rockets’ worries. Instead, let’s focus on a bigger problem that was also evident in most of Sunday night’s game: the offense.

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Rockets gun down Grizzlies

Wednesday, February 7th, 2007
by John

Although the Rockets have been on a roll, having won 5 of their last 6 games, and were facing a Memphis team with the league’s worst record Tuesday night, you’ve still got to give them credit for winning 98-90.

After all, it was the second night of a back-to-back, Dikembe Mutombo ‘s knee was hurting, Juwan Howard was sick, Bonzi Wells was out, the Grizzlies are averaging 111 points a game since interim coach Tony Barone took over for the ousted Mike Fratello, and they kept coming at Houston.all game long But the Rockets fended them off to sweep the season series.

And for the second game in a row, Jeff Van Gundy praised his team:

“That was as hard as a team can play. That was a classic night that most teams let up and lose. I couldn’t be prouder of the group.”

“That’s what we’re talking about with leadership. McGrady puts it on the floor two times in a row. That’s leadership. Deke playing 37 minutes; that’s leadership. Juwan fighting through it; that’s leadership. (Shane) Battier being disciplined; that’s leadership. So I loved the way we played.”

Two post-game conferences in a row with compliments from JVG? I think hell is freezing over.

Tracy McGrady was awesome again, scoring 33 points on 12-of-26 shooting, and also throwing in 8 assists. To boot, he had two fantastic flying dunks, one on an alley-oop from Rafer Alston, and another after a baseline pump fake on Rudy Gay that left a clear lane to the hoop for an easy jam. I love T-Mac’s dunks more than most anyone’s. They just have a flair to them that makes you ask, “How did he do that?”

Houston’s offense was very efficient, shooting 49.4% and making 12-of-13 free throws. Three players shot better than 50% (Shane Battier – 6-of-9 for 14 points, Luther Head was 5-of-8 for 11, and Chuck Hayes was 4-of-6). With that kind of shooting, and only 10 team turnovers, you’re going to win a lot of games.

Of course, the Rockets’ defense was solid as always, holding Memphis to 43% shooting, and 2-of-18 from three-point territory for 11% shooting, a season-low.

Battier was awesome against his former teammate and scoring extraordinaire Mike Miller, holding him to 12 points on 5-of-17 shooting, 0-of-8 from three-point range, snapping Miller’s 27-game streak of making at least one trey.

Now the Rockets – who have played their share of cupcakes lately — face a big test on Friday and play the red-hot Dallas Mavericks. It will be interesting to see how well they measure up against arguably the best team in the league.