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Rockets outgun Grizzlies

Sunday, December 31st, 2006
by John

They shot almost 10 percentage points lower than their opponent, they missed critical free throws down the stretch, but because of amazing 3-point shooting (14-of-31), the Houston Rockets held on to beat Memphis New Year’s Eve at Toyota Center, 111-109.

Tracy McGrady continues his improbable scoring binge after missing 7 games because of back spasms. He made 15-of-30 shots on his way to 38 points, making 5-of-8 treys along the way. After making only 40.5% of his shots and 28% of his 3-pointers before Friday’s game against Atlanta, he has hit 58% of his shots and 64% (9-of-14) of his threes his last two games.

It might be because of inferior defenses, but clearly T-Mac’s concentration — and confidence — is running sky high. The Rockets need that while Yao is sidelined with his fractured tibia.

Juwan Howard continues to look like his Fab Five self, hitting 5-of-10 shots but also making 12-of-13 free three throws on his way to 22 points and 7 boards. What’s surprising is that Howard’s shooting at the line is no fluke. He shot his average Sunday night – 92%. Pretty good for a big man who is playing extended minutes (38 Sunday night) and probably more winded because of Yao’s absence. He has been the biggest surprise of all during the Rockets 3-game winning streak.

Luther Head made two huge 3-pointers in the games final two minutes to give the Rockets some cushion against the hot shooting Grizzlies (52%), making 5-of-6 three-pointers overall for 18 points. Van Gundy gave the rising star props after the game. “He’s a terrific shooter…he’s had the courage from day one to shoot late,” Van Gundy said.

Howard and Head’s production were sorely needed considering Rafer Alston showed his inconsistency by making only 4-of-18 shots (1-of-7 three-point shooting), and missing those big FTs down the stretch – Yikes! But at least his line wasn’t a total disaster – only two turnovers on a night the Rockets gave up the ball 10 times.

The Rockets now head into the New Year with 3 days off before playing Seattle on Wednesday, and a 19-12 record. If you had told me before the season that the Rockets would have that kind of record with T-Mac missing 7 games and Yao out for 4, I would have taken it.

The added bonus is that the Rockets’ bench has been getting some welcomed playing time during those games without their studs, which will be crucial come playoff time. With the way they are playing, that’s a high probability with the Rockets currently seeded 6th in the West.

Click here for the Houston Chronicle’s story on the game.

Yao scores 28 against Memphis for 3rd straight win

Sunday, November 26th, 2006
by John
Yao shoots over former teammate Stromile Swift on his way to 28 points in an 85-76 win over the Memphis Grizzlies Saturday night at Toyota Center for the Rockets third win in a row.Yao shoots over former teammate Stromile Swift on his way to 28 points in an 85-76 win over the Memphis Grizzlies Saturday night at Toyota Center for the Rockets third win in a row. Click here for the game story. Click here for more photos.

The Rockets again showed Saturday night that when things are going south — like they did in the second quarter against Memphis – they can stare panic and defeat in the face and still find a way to get the job done. That’s a mark of a team that I think can go a long way this season.

Against the Memphis Grizzlies Saturday night, the Rockets were sizzling in the first quarter, shooting 61% on their way to a 24-18 lead, with Yao making all four of his shots.

But then all of a sudden the wheels came off. The Rockets only hit 20% of their shots in the second, with Yao only making 1-of-4 shot attempts.

Meanwhile, Memphis showed their athleticism and quickness during a run that gave them to a 39-37 halftime lead. They were aggressive going to the rack, getting fouled, and shooting 20 free throws in the first half compared only to Houston’s eight.

Rudy Gay, Houston’s first round 2006 draft pick traded to Memphis along with Stromile Swift for Shane Battier, showed glimpses Saturday night why Memphis GM Jerry West wanted him so badly. At the half Gay was tied with Brian Cardinal for most Memphis points (7 points), led the team in rebounds (6) and blocks (2). One of those blocks came against Yao in an amazing athletic move.

So Houston went into the locker room at halftime wondering if their reknown fourth quarter offensive collapses were now moving up in schedule a couple of quarters early. Would they be able to put that bad shooting behind them and come out with more resolve at the start of the second half?

Did they ever.

Rafer Alston came out more aggressive out of the gate, scoring on three of Houston’s first 4 possessions with a jump shot, a running floater along the baseline, and a Skip-to-My-Lou crossover-like move to the basket for a layup. Throw into that scoring mix a dunk by Yao, a tip-in by Shane Battier after a missed Alston free throw, and a few easy shots by Yao, and the Rockets finally got some breathing room to take a 53-47 lead.

The Rockets ended up outscoring Memphis 28-13 in that pivotal third quarter to lead 65-54, and kept playing hard to open the lead up to 15 points in the fourth quarter, cruising to their third straight win.

Yao finished with a team-high 28 points on 11-of-16 shooting, 8 rebounds and three blocks.

The things I like about Yao’s game this season that is leading to his increased scoring numbers this season (26.4 ppg vs. 22.3 last season) are the following:

First, he’s getting to the line almost 3 times more per game this season, and making the same percentage (about 85%) of free throw attempts.

The other thing is that he isn’t blowing near as many chip shots around the rim like he has done in previous seasons. I think that might be coming not only with being stronger and using more of his weight to get exactly where he wants around the basket, but taking his time and concentrating all the way through his shot when he is around the rim.

T-Mac was fantastic, showing once again how great of a passer he is, finishing with a career-tying 13 assists and 19 points. I think he is still shooting too many three-pointers (1-for-4), although the one that he did make was a difficult one that came at the shot clock buzzer. It’s almost like if he has time to think about the shot, he misses it, but if he has to use his natural ability and just shoot, his muscle memory kicks in and the shot goes in.

But his ability to find open shooters is phenomenal, including a wraparound behind-the-back pass to Yao for a dunk.

Honorable mention goes to Luther Head, who continues to shoot lights out from three-point territory, hitting 3-of-4 treys (9 points total), including two in the fourth quarter that kept Memphis a comfortable distance away. Luther is really having a breakout year, hitting 50% of his three-pointers, and is just the kind of contribution they need from a second-year player. Dallas had Devin Harris come to the forefront last season, and his fellow Illinois teammate Deron Williams is having that kind of year this season (18 ppg, 9.3 assists per game) with the surprising 12-2 Utah Jazz.

No surprise, Rockets lose to Memphis

Saturday, April 15th, 2006
by John

Saturday night the Rockets lost their 7th of seven games when Yao and T-Mac aren’t in the lineup, losing to the Memphis Grizzlies 93-81 at Toyota Center.

Houston trailed 29-17 the first minute into the second quarter, but then outscored the Grizzlies by 10 points in the second quarter to get a 46-46 tie at halftime. I thought maybe the Rockets were in position to upset the 46-33 Grizzlies, currently the 5th seed in the Western Conference playoffs. Stromile Swift was looking great, hitting 4-of-5 field goals in the second quarter alone, and leading all Houston scorers with 10 points at halftime.

But that’s all Stromile would score, attempting only 2 shots (and missing them both) in just five minutes of action in the second half. Not sure why Stro’ didn’t get more playing time after such a great first half.

The Griz’ pulled away as you would expect in the second half, opening up an 18-point lead early in the fourth quarter. It was clear sailing from there.

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Yao returns to court, but Rockets still lose

Monday, January 30th, 2006
by John
Memphis' Mike Miller drives past Yao in the fourth quarter Monday night in Yao's first game back in over 5 weeks.  Despite Yao's return, the Rockets lost 86-77.Memphis’ Mike Miller drives past Yao in the fourth quarter Monday night in Yao’s first game back in over 5 weeks. Despite Yao’s return, the Rockets lost 86-77. To see more photos from the game, click here.

by John

MONDAY, 1/30/06 – You hoped when it happened that it would make a difference.

Of course, I’m talking about Yao‘s return to the basketball court Monday night — his first game back since having toe surgery December 19th, twenty-one games ago. Although Yao played decent minutes (32) and racked up decent stats (15 points on 7-of-14 shooting, 8 rebounds), the Rockets still lost to Memphis 86-77.

I wasn’t able to watch the game until about midway through the fourth quarter, and when I tuned in, they were down by 16 points. Just like they did against Miami the day before, they made a run to make things interesting, but never really threatened down the stretch.

If you look at the boxscore of the game, you see the big problem being 3-point shooting again. The Rockets were 3-of-17 from behind the arc (under-appreciated Scott Padgett looks awfully good right now, doesn’t he Jeff and Carroll?). Over their past two games, they are 6-of-31 from 3-point land, shooting less than 20%. That’s not going to get it done. Neither is 8-of-19 from the free throw line! Stromile Swift and Yao were both 1-of-4 from the charity stripe.

Now with Yao back in the lineup, I hope I will have more interesting things to write about. This losing (15-29 record, worst in the West) is getting so old, there isn’t anything new that can be said that hasn’t already been said. It reminds me of an old friend of mine who did freelance writing for a business publication after the tech bubble burst a few years ago. She ultimately decided to leave the gig, citing the reason, “There are only so many ways you can say the Nasdaq is down again today.” That’s what it feels like covering the Rockets.


To see the boxscore from the game, click here.

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

Rockets back to old ways — lose badly to Memphis

Saturday, December 3rd, 2005
by John
Yao goes up to throw down a dunk Saturday night in Houston on his way to scoring 29 points, but the Rockets were blown out by Memphis most of the game, losing 90-75 to the Grizzlies.Yao goes up to throw down a dunk Saturday night in Houston on his way to scoring 29 points, but the Rockets were blown out by Memphis most of the game, losing 90-75 to the Grizzlies. For more photos from the game, click here.

by John

SATURDAY, 12/03/05 – I attended my first Rockets game of the season on Saturday night. I rarely use the elevator at Toyota Center to get to the upper level where I usually sit because the elevator can get a little cramped. But tonight I was in between the two escalators I normally take to get to the upper level, and the elevator was right there with the doors open, so I jumped on.

Wouldn’t you know it, on the elevator’s first stop, Rockets’ owner Leslie Alexander got on, along with a woman who I believe is his wife. I figured when I got off, I would say hello or something. When my stop came, Leslie got off the elevator temporarily to make room so the people in the back of the elevator like me could get off.

After I passed through the elevator doors, I said hello to him for just a second, and he and his wife seemed really nice. But a couple of minutes later, I was KICKING myself because I thought MAYBE I could have scored some better seats by telling him real fast, “Hi Leslie, I’m the guy who writes for the Yao Ming Fan Club site, and does it for free. My seats are in the upper deck. Is there a chance I might be able to sit close to where you’re seats are tonight?” Of course, I would do it tongue-in-cheek without any expectations of getting such a gift. But hey, it never hurts to ask, right? You never know: by some stroke of luck and a kind heart, maybe I could have gotten a great seat near the court – maybe even on the floor where he usually sits. After all, it turned out there were plenty of empty seats all around the arena tonight.

But after seeing the Rockets put on one of their worst performances WITH T-Mac this season, maybe it’s a good thing I didn’t ask for that favor and can hope for that same situation to occur again when the Rockets are playing better, because the way the Rockets played on Saturday night, I didn’t miss a thing sitting down low.

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Rockets lose sixth in a row

Friday, November 25th, 2005
by John
Yao goes up for a rebound over the Grizzlies' Shane Battier on Friday night.  Although Yao grabbed 12 boards and scored 15 points, Battier led Memphis to a 86-81 victory by scoring 20 big points and grabing 7 boards.Yao goes up for a rebound over the Grizzlies’ Shane Battier on Friday night. Although Yao grabbed 12 boards and scored 15 points, Battier led Memphis to a 86-81 victory by scoring 20 big points and grabbing 7 boards. For more photos from the game, click here.

by John

FRIDAY, 11/25/05 – If the Rockets end up making the playoffs after T-Mac comes back this season, he should be immediately named NBA MVP because there would be no other player more valuable to their team than T-Mac. The Rockets are now 0-7 without T-Mac (3-10 overall) after losing to Memphis Friday night, 86-81. Without him, they are a lost cause.

The same story applied Friday night: the Rockets were competitive for a little over 3 quarters, but they couldn’t make enough big shots to win when it counted.

I thought this game was going to be different, especially considering the hot start the Rockets had. David Wesley started the game hitting 3 treys in a row, putting the Rockets up 9-0. Then Juwan Howard scored on a strong move to the hole, giving them an 11-0 lead. Finally some good karma that could break Houston’s five game losing streak, right? Naah.

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Rockets win while Astros lose World Series a few blocks away

Thursday, October 27th, 2005
by John
Yao slams one home against the Utah Jazz on Wednesday night in Houston on the way to an 88-80 victory.  Yao finished with 19 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 blocks in 31 minutes of play. Yao slams one home against the Utah Jazz on Wednesday night in Houston on the way to an 88-80 victory. Yao finished with 19 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 blocks in 31 minutes of play. For more photos from the game, click here.

THURSDAY, 10/27/05 – I went to the World Series game last night in downtown Houston, and once again witnessed a feeble offense that failed to win a game after having all the chances in the world to win it. Fortunately, I have been put out of my misery now that the World Series is over. Now it’s time for me to focus exclusively on the Rockets! I found it quite ironic as I walked to Minute Maid Park in downtown Houston to watch the World Series Game, I walked right past Toyota Center where the Rockets were about to play the Utah Jazz last night in their preseason game. While activity in one building was soon going to die (Minute Maid), new life was being generated in the new (Toyota).

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Rockets fall to Memphis in preseason

Sunday, October 23rd, 2005
by John

On a night where almost all of Houston ignored the Rockets to watch the Astros in the World Series, the Rockets lost to Memphis last night, 82-78. The Houston Chronicle reported that the Rockets played badly, but at this point, not too many people care. Everyone knows they are playing lots of different lineups and combinations, and that they still have until November 2nd when the regular season starts to get things right. For the next week or so, the Rockets are lucky. They can play as poorly as they want, and no one in Houston will really even notice.

Yao led all Houston scorers with 20 points, but fouled out in the fourth quarter. The Rockets are now 4-1 in preseason play.

To read more about the game, click here for the Houston Chronicle article.

Yao scores 29, grabs 9 boards, blocks 4 shots in win over Memphis

Wednesday, April 13th, 2005
by John
Yao puts up a sweet finger roll in the fourth quarter to help lead the Rockets to a 100-92 victory against the Memphis Grizzlies Wednesday night in Houston.  Yao scored 12 points in the pivotal fourth quarter, and finished with 29 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 blocked shots.Yao puts up a sweet finger roll in the fourth quarter to help lead the Rockets to a 100-92 victory against the Memphis Grizzlies Wednesday night in Houston. Yao scored 12 points in the pivotal fourth quarter, and finished with 29 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 blocked shots. Click here for more photos from the game.

by John

WEDNESDAY, 4/13/05 – It’s something you can’t say for every game this season, but without Yao on Wednesday night, the Rockets would have lost. Yao was clutch when the Rockets needed him most, scoring 12 points in the fourth quarter in a very tight game against the Memphis Grizzlies, leading the Rockets to a 100-92 victory. Yao finished with 28 points, 9 boards and 4 rejections. Although Yao has always been known for his high percentage field goal shooting, Yao’s defense and shot-blocking skills have improved over the past few weeks and made a difference in this game.

Yao got off to a great start in the first quarter, hitting all four of his shots with confidence for eight points. T-Mac was the reason for at least two of those made shots, dishing two assists to Yao down low for easy buckets. T-Mac also scored 8 points in the first quarter, but the Grizzlies still led at the end of the quarter, 26-24, thanks to Mike Miller’s 9 points.

In the second quarter, the Rockets went on an 8-0 run to take a 40-30 lead, and a few minutes later they held a 46-33 lead. Yao scored 6 points thanks to 4-of-4 shooting from the free throw line, and point guard Mike James shot an amazing 3-of-3 from three-point territory. Miller continued his hot shooting, scoring another six points on 3-of-4 shooting. By halftime, the Rockets led 52-42 thanks to 44% shooting in the first half and five three-pointers. T-Mac and Yao both had 14 points each.

In the third quarter, the Rockets opened up their largest lead of the night at 62-46 after running off an 8-0 run. But the Grizzlies came storming back, thanks to a 20-7 run sparked by a McGrady-like scoring binge by Miller, who scored 13 points and three treys to bring them to within 69-66.

The fourth quarter was a nail-biter, with the game nip-and-tuck the entire quarter. Every time it looked like the Rockets were going to pull away, the determined Grizzlies would battle back and stay within striking distance. It wasn’t until T-Mac dished a nifty pass to Yao who was cutting down the middle of the lane to lay it off the glass for the deuce, and was fouled with 1:08 remaining. Yao then went to the line and hit the penalty free throw to give the Rockets a 93-88 lead. Twenty-seven seconds later, Mike James (15 points) hit his fourth three-pointer of the game at the 41 second mark to give the Rockets a 96-90 lead to basically seal the deal. It was great to see James hit a big shot when the Rockets needed it.

Mike Miller (career-high 37 points) gave the Houston fans lots of headaches during the game, but he won their favor by fouling T-Mac with only .2 seconds remaining when the game was in the Rockets’ hands 98-92. That foul gave T-Mac a chance to go to the line and shoot two free throws to hit the 100-point mark and give the attendees free Big Macs. Needless to say, after T-Mac drained both free throws, the Houston crowd was ecstatic.

With the victory, the Rockets kept the Grizzlies, currently battling Minnesota for the 8th and final seed in the Western Conference playoffs, from clinching a playoff spot. The Rockets also stayed neck-and-neck with the Denver Nuggets for the sixth playoff seed.

Denver won their game on Wednesday night against New Orleans. So if the Nuggets beat Memphis in Denver on Friday night, the Rockets and Nuggets will have the same record (48-31) with only three games remaining. One of those games involves a duel between the two teams on Saturday night in Houston, which will most certainly be a showdown for that 6th playoff spot (or maybe the 5th) to play Seattle (or Dallas) in the first round of the playoffs.

I will be at that game, and I can’t wait to file my report…unless the Rockets lose, of course.


To read the Houston Chronicle’s post-game analysis, click here and here.