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Ish and Jermaine now have their chance

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010
by John

One thing I wanted to point out from the Rockets’ victory over Minnesota on Sunday night was that as a team, they only had 7 turnovers, thanks to rookie point guard Ish Smith. Smith only had 1 TO as the starting PG who played 41 1/2 minutes. And he only had 1 TO against San Antonio the night before. Two TOs in two games (his gamelog is here). Not bad. If he can only improve his shooting percentage. 7-for-27 in two games is not good at all.

Smith will be getting a ton of playing time with Aaron Brooks out 4-6 weeks because of his sprained ankle. It looks like my prediction of Brooks being out “several weeks” the night he got hurt, even before an MRI was done, turned out to be true when many people thought he would just be “day-to-day” or “a couple of weeks.” Maybe I should go into sports medicine. Or online betting.

One other bet I’m willing to make is that benchwarmer (thus far) and almost-released guard Jermaine Taylor will be getting more playing time since Brooks, and even Lowry, will be missing a lot of time over the next few weeks. I think Taylor has what the Rockets’ need — a scoring punch they’ll need (since Smith’s shooting is so poor) and some size to man-up on opposing shooting guards. He’s got the chance. Now he has to go out and prove his worth.

Rockets finally halt losing streak

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010
by John

I’m a little late in this post since the Rockets finally got their first win of the season Sunday night about 48 hours ago. Even with their 0-5 start, it was a win that should have been expected against the Minnesota Timberwolves, by far the easiest team on the Rockets’ schedule the first six games of this young season. Sorry I didn’t post anything earlier about it. If you’re like me, a guy who has been very busy at work, the Rockets winning a game against a team they should beat — after such a terrible start to the season — isn’t the most urgent thing in the world you have to post.

If the Rockets had lost this game, it would have been a complete disaster, even without Aaron Brooks and Kyle Lowry out. Fortunately Kevin Martin was able to suck it up for the team and play through his slightly sprained ankle, scoring 21 points that they badly needed. Luis Scola led Houston with 24 points in just 27 minutes. And Shane Battier is finally starting to score more, racking up 12 points (but only on 3-of-9 shooting). But at least he’s been putting up more shots lately, having scored 14 points in San Antonio the night before. I think they’ll need more of Shane’s aggressiveness on offense. No more games with just 3 points, please.

The game was a blowout early, with the Rockets holding Minnesota to 13 points in the first quarter and leading 60-37 at halftime. They opened up a 30+ point lead in the second half, and even the Rockets couldn’t blow that kind of lead. Opening up big leads is probably the Rockets’ best chance of winning games until they can figure out a way to execute offensively in tight games.

With the big early lead, Yao only played 16 minutes and scored 13 points on 3-of-5 shooting and 7-for-7 from the line. It’s encouraging that now there are reports circulating that the Rockets are considering increasing Yao’s playing time from the 24-minute guideline and not playing in back-to-backs since his physical progress has been so encouraging. Let’s hope that’s the case, for our sanity and Yao’s.

Rockets take care of T-wolves

Saturday, March 21st, 2009
by John

Before the All-Star break, Rocket fans were wondering if their team would ever get to a point where they’d consistently beat the bad teams after so many disappointing losses to sub-.500 teams.

Boy, isn’t it nice to see them take care of teams they should easily beat, now that McGrady and Alston’s inconsistency are out of the line-up.

The Rockets took care of the 20-49 Minnesota Timberwolves Friday night, setting up a huge game Sunday afternoon in San Antonio, who are only 1/2 game ahead of the Rockets after the Spurs lost to Boston, thanks to 6 missed free throws in a row down the stretch, including 4 from Tony Parker! It happens to the best of them, but on this night, the Rockets did what they were expected to do, beating Minnesota to go 46-25 on the season.

Yao gets some good hang time in contesting the shot
of Minnesota’s Craig Smith. Click here for more photos from the game.

As great as the Rockets’ offense was in opening up a 22-point lead in a 35-point third quarter, their highest scoring quarter of the season, Yao didn’t exactly light it up. He only hit 2-of-10 shots in the first half, and finished with 14 points on 6-of-16 shots and 8 boards in a little under 30 minutes of play. BUT he did only commit 2 turnovers.

My favorite bucket of Yao’s came in the third quarter when Ron Artest grabbed a defensive rebound, pushed it up the court on a fast break, Yao was running ahead of him, then Artest threw a quick underhand shuttle pass ahead to Yao who caught it on the dead run, bounced it once, and laid it in off the glass!

That score gave the Rockets a 22-point lead, 71-49. Just before that, Artest responded to a 9-0 run by the T-wolves, which cut the Rockets lead down to 13, by hitting a 3-pointer, a long 2-pointer, and 2 free throws to push the Rockets’ lead to 20 points. A few minutes after Artest rewarded Yao for running the floor with that sweet assist, Yao would leave the game for good, and the Rockets would cruise on to their victory.

Artest would finish the game with a game-high 20 points on 8-of-16 shooting, 5 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 blocked shots and a steal.

The point guards also chipped in with a solid performance: Aaron Brooks had 13 points on 4-of-9 shots, including 4 assists and 0 turnovers. Kyle Lowry scored 10 points on 4-of-7 shots, 4 assists, and 0 turnovers. Rafer who?

Von Wafer was an absolute blur, taking it strong to the hole and igniting the crowd with his God-given athleticism, scoring all 10 points of his points in the 4th quarter. My goodness, Vonnie “the Microwave” is still so much fun to watch!

Shane Battier “EXPLODED” with 11 points on 4-of-5 shots, had 6 rebounds and 2 assists. My, oh my. If Battier scores 10+ points a game the rest of the season, I think Houston could win 2 or 3 playoff series. But like we’ve seen so many times before, Battier will probably retreat back into his scoring hole.

But that may be okay if James White ends up getting some playing time. White played for the first time this season late in the fourth quarter, and he showed what he can do in a very short amount of time by blocking a shot, getting a steal, hitting a long two-pointer, and a three to finish with 5 points. We got glimpses of why he averaged 25 points a game in the D-League and was that league’s MVP. His lanky physique reminds me a little of Kevin Durant‘s. If he plays half as good as K.D., he’ll have a nice career in Houston.

Looking ahead to Sunday’s game, you can bet the Spurs will be really fired up for Houston after losing in such heartbreaking fashion because of those 6 missed free throws in a row. I’m not a big Tony Parker fan, but I feel sorry for any player who loses a game because of so many missed free throws in a row. Everyone probably still remembers the agony of Orlando’s Nick Anderson in 1995 missing those free throws against the Rockets in the NBA Finals.

Rockets redeem themselves 24 hours after Chicago debacle

Monday, March 2nd, 2009
by John

The game against an 18-40 Timberwolves team Sunday night was still a big game for everyone on the Rockets’ side. The fans, the players, the coaches, the GM, etc.

After the Rockets had won 6 in a row at home and looked like they had left behind the ghosts of choke jobs from the past, they go out Saturday night and blow the largest lead ever in franchise history in a fourth quarter (17 points) against Chicago and lose.

So which team would show up Sunday night in Minnesota? That’s what everyone in Rocketville was waiting to find out.

Fortunately they were playing a team that had lost 10 of its last 11 games, and were without man-child Al Jefferson because of a torn ACL.

They took advantage by building a 25-15 lead in the first quarter making their first 7 shots and 12 of their first 14. But you had to wonder by halftime why the Rockets hadn’t built a bigger lead, letting the T-Wolves hang around down only 54-53.

As a team, Houston was shooting 60% by halftime and Yao was leading his team in scoring with 12 points on 4-of-5 shots. It’s not the 8 to 10 shots I’d like to see him get by halftime, but hey, you take what the defense gives you.

But finally they made their move in the 3rd quarter by going on a 17-0 run to pop the lead to 81-64. During that stretch, Yao was challenged defensively in the paint, and he responded with 2 blocks to rack his tally to 5 rejections by that time. He would finish with 6 blocks, matching his block total in Minnesota earlier in the season.

An unusual photo for YaoMania: a photo that barely has Yao in it. But it shows how aggressive Yao can be defending the paint from behind the shooter, this time Minnesota’s Craig Smith. Click here for more photos from the game.

Poor Kevin Love. With Jefferson out for the season, the rookie is now having to play center, and has at least an 8-inch disadvantage to Yao. Love is going to be a great NBA player, but he’s not the best leaper in the world and Yao’s presence affected his box score: 1-for-5 in the second half, and 4-for-12 overall for 9 points.

Since we’ve all been following Yao for so long, we tend to take his height for granted. That’s why I like being reminded when players in the league still marvel at Yao’s size. Minnesota’s 6’4” Randy Foye had this to say about Yao:

“I walked past him and I’m at his waist. He’s a huge human being. It’s tough to go in there and get shots over him.”

Some of Yao’s fans tend to get on him because he can’t jump that high. But when you’re already an intimidating force just standing flat-footed, you don’t really need to be able to jump that well. Just hold your ground.

That’s exactly what the Rockets did throughout the rest of the game. There would be no 17-point blown lead like the night before in Chicago.

The starters played deep into the fourth quarter to make sure that wouldn’t happen again. Yao would only take 2 shots after halftime, making 1 of them, to finish with 17 points on 5-of-7 shooting, and hit all 7 of his free throws. He also grabbed 11 boards, but had 5 turnovers.

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Yao scores 30 to counter Big Al’s 36 in a classic duel

Sunday, February 8th, 2009
by John

I was really looking forward to seeing Minnesota’s Al Jefferson play the Rockets Saturday night in Houston. I’ve remembered in recent seasons how he has been pretty good, but this season we’ve all heard how he’s stepped up his game to an even higher level, so let’s see what he’s got.

No doubt, Big Al delivered and was incredible. He torched the Rockets with 17 points on 8-of-12 shots and 8 rebounds in the first quarter alone, hitting several jumpers that pulled Yao out of the paint trying to defend him.

Seeing Yao outside of the paint having to defend against Jefferson’s J’s was a bit precarious since it seemed Al could blow by Yao with relative ease, but he didn’t have to because his jumper was falling just fine.

With the way it was playing out, it looked like Yao — who started the game missing his first 4 shots — was going to have to start thinking about getting some real competition for the Western Conference’s best center the rest of his career. Jefferson would finish Saturday with 36 points on 16-of-30 shots, and 22 boards.

Well, Jefferson might be one of the rising centers in the West who will give Yao a run for his money, but through his own play, Yao made a statement Saturday night that no one should forget about him just yet.

Yao throws one down against the entire Timberwolves team. Click here for more photos from the game.

Yao would hit 12 of his last 14 shots and just about neutralize Jefferson with 30 points of his own to lead Houston to a 107-90 victory. It was a classic duel that reminded me of great Rocket center matchups from years’ past: like Moses vs. Parish, Hakeem vs. Shaq. Now Yao vs. Al.

It was a physical game for Yao. Jefferson banged Yao’s left arm which made Yao feel like his arm was “burning.” Check out the photo>sHere are photos of Yao trying to stop the bleeding.

On this night, though, Rocket fans had more to worry about than who would win the physical bout between Yao and Al. They had to be concerned about winning a game against a team they should beat, which they should have done against Memphis Wednesday night.

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Yao makes appearance at Rockets-Wolves game

Thursday, March 27th, 2008
by John

It had been a few weeks since any of us had seen Yao, maybe dating back to February 26th when he announced he’ll be having season-ending surgery. That’s due to the fact that Yao can’t really walk without crutches and has been resting at home.

He finally was seen Wednesday night to watch the honoring of Dikembe Mutombo at halftime of the Rockets game against Minnesota (injured Steve Francis was also there). It’s good to see the big fella’ back:

Click here and here for more photos of Yao at the game.

Francis did some guest commentating during the FSN telecast, and he had a couple of interesting things to say:

1) When Francis had his knee surgery, he said Yao was one of the first people who visited him at the hospital. Francis really appreciated the gesture. Obviously Yao and Steve still remain very close friends.

2) Francis said although he’ll become a free agent at the end of this season, he doesn’t want to leave Houston and wants to sign with the Rockets again. It could get awkward if the Rockets want to move forward without him.

As far as the game goes, the Rockets were prime for an upset from the Timberwolves because I think they’re alot better than people give them credit for. Al Jefferson is a stud of a player (he proved it with 21 points, 10 boards and 5 blocks) and former Rocket Kirk Snyder played very well (12 points on 5-of-7 shooting) by attacking the basket and getting several dunks.

On top of that, the Rockets were going to have more than 3 days before their next game against San Antonio on Sunday, which is almost an eternity in the NBA. So it would have been easier for the Timberwolves to catch the Rockets looking ahead to the break and their huge game against the Spurs.

Minnesota made a game of it by getting as close as 2 points in the fourth quarter, but Tracy McGrady finally got his shot going by scoring 10 points in the quarter (5-of-10 shooting) to finally give the Rockets a bigger cushion and eventually win it 97-86. Before McGrady started hitting shots in the fourth, he had missed 11-of-15 of them. He would finish with a game-high 23 points.

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Rockets escape Minnesota with narrow win

Monday, February 4th, 2008
by John
Yao Ming scores with Minnesota's Al Jefferson looks on Monday night in Minnesota.  Yao would only score 16 points and grab 5 boards in a game that went down to the wire, which the Rockets won 92-86.Yao Ming scores with Minnesota’s Al Jefferson looks on Monday night in Minnesota. Yao would only score 16 points and grab 5 boards in a game that went down to the wire, which the Rockets won 92-86. Click here for more photos from the game.

Before the Rockets ever played the Timberwolves on Monday night, I knew the Rockets were going to be in for a fight. Although Minnesota had a 10-36 record entering the game, they had won 4 in a row at home, 5 of their last 7 games, and had beaten Golden State and Phoenix during that stretch.

That was enough to strike fear in my heart. This is the type of team the Rockets have given away games so many times in the past, and I knew the risk of them losing this game was going to be extremely high.

So during the first 3 quarters of play, I was just happy the Rockets hadn’t blown the game already. They led 24-18 after the first quarter, 47-42 at halftime, and 66-63 headed into the fourth quarter.

Things were looking great when they opened up a 10-point lead, 75-65, with 7:25 remaining in the game. I was ecstatic the Rockets appeared to have taken care of business, even if it was an ugly game getting to that point. But who cares, a win is a win, right?

Except this is the Rockets we’re talking about. Rather than cruise to a victory, they absolutely fell apart on the worst display of basketball I have seen since…well, the Rockets blew that 12-point fourth quarter lead to the 76ers on January 15th at home.

You know the saying in basketball, “live by the three, die by the three?” That applies here to some degree since Tracy McGrady hit a late 3-pointer to pull the game out to help the Rockets win 92-86. But I have a twist to that old adage: “live by the ‘T,’ die by the ‘T.’” When I say ‘T,’ I do mean Tracy.

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Rockets have highlight reel game in blowout of Timberwolves

Saturday, January 12th, 2008
by John
Yao Ming contests the shot of Minnesota's Corey Brewer in a game where Yao wasn't needed much.  Yao only played 28 minutes and scored 15 points in an easy 113-82 win.Yao Ming contests the shot of Minnesota’s Corey Brewer in a game where Yao wasn’t needed much. Yao only played 28 minutes and scored 15 points in an easy 113-82 win. Click here for more photos from the pre-game shooting practice.

Because of really bad shoulder pain, I am not able to type with both hands as normal. So I’m going to try something new and file an audio report about my thoughts on the Rockets’ impressive victory Friday night over Minnesota 113-82. Click on the player below for part 1:

In part 2 using the player below, I talk more about my shoulder situation and shoulder injuries in general (which is relevant because of Yao’s plan to have shoulder surgery after the Olympics), D-Wade‘s shoulder injury last season against the Rockets, and the upcoming New Orleans game on Sunday. Duration: about 4 minutes.

Rockets tear into T-Wolves

Tuesday, February 6th, 2007
by John

Another game where I don’t have anything to complain about. The Rockets showed fire and energy Monday night — and got payback against the Timberwolves for their last two losses in a row in Minnesota — dominating the T-Wolves 105-77. I can get used to this.

Tracy McGrady was back to his old self, scoring 32 points on 12-of-27 shooting, including 16 points in the third quarter. Juwan Howard was almost as good, scoring 20 points on 9-of-11 shooting.

Some other amazing stats from the game.

*The Rockets biggest lead was 37 points.
*They committed only 6 turnovers.
*They had 9 steals compared to Minnesota’s one.
*They outscored Minnesota 42-18 in the paint.
*They outscored the T-Wolves 17-0 on fast break points.


Although they upchucked in their last game against the Hornets on Saturday night, the Rockets showed their pride. Van Gundy gave his team one of the best compliments I have ever seen when he said after the game:

“I loved the way we played, the energy level we had.”

That’s just as astounding as the stats mentioned above. JVG was also more encouraging during the game than seen in recent memory, clapping and applauding his players throughout.

The Rockets completed their 5-0 homestand against “cupcakes” 4-1, and are now 30-13. I’ll take it.

Rockets hot streak ends with frigid shooting in Minnesota

Sunday, January 7th, 2007
by John

Just one day after I wrote that the Rockets definitely still need Yao, my point was driven home hard given the Rockets’ lousy game against Minnesota Sunday afternoon, losing 103-99 in OT.

It was painful to watch Houston launch ill-advised jumpers and bad shots (37% through 3 quarters). Minnesota didn’t shoot much better and only led 71-62 heading into the fourth quarter. That’s when the Rockets woke up, got the pathetically shooting Rafer Alston out of the game (0-for-10 in the 2nd and 3rd quarter), put John Lucas in, got T-Mac going, made Luther Head get more aggressive offensively, and got back into the game to tie the game late in the fourth and force OT.

It looked like the Rockets were going to pull off an improbable win when T-Mac started off OT by hitting a long two, and Juwan Howard hit two jump shots to give Houston a 94-93 lead with 2:24 remaining.

But the rest of the way, the game ended by the Rockets laying bricks…

Steve Novak missed a three
Mark Blount scored on Novak
T-Mac missed a 7-footer
Rafer (back in the game) missed a trey (no surprise there)
T-Mac missed a trey
Luther turned it over

Meanwhile, the T-wolves capitalized on the Rockets crumbling defense, and Minnesota took a game that — if Yao had been it –would have been a different story.

Here were other keys to the loss:

Alston hitting only 4-of-17 shots. Something has GOT to be done. After stinking up the joint, at least Van Gundy played John Lucas 22 minutes, the most number of minutes he has played all season by far. I did a quick calculation of Alston’s shooting percentage over the last 12 games, and it’s an unbelievably bad 31%.

I think I know the Rockets’ front office well enough that they are looking RIGHT NOW to clear the missing-in-action Bob Sura off the roster and bring in someone who can also play PG, as well as give Lucas a few more minutes. There’s probably not much out there, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Rox bring back Casey Jacobsen (I think he could be in Europe), who they reluctantly let go when Sura said he thought he could still play this season. I know it’s not the answer, but at least JVG liked him enough to publicly acknowledge that he had something to offer, which is saying alot for Van Gundy. Thanks, Sura. Were you hanging around Jeff Bagwell the past few months before claiming you thought you could come back?

T-Mac was really off the first three quarters, hitting only 6-of-19 shots (many of them bail-out jumpers) until he woke up and made 4-of-6 in the fourth quarter to bring the Rockets back and send the game to OT.

Kevin Garnett (11-of-24, 26 points, 13 boards), Blount (6-of-12, 21 points, 10 boards), Trenton Hassell (5-of-10, 14 points), and Ricky Davis (6-of-12, 16 points) just killed the Rockets. Without Yao clogging up the middle, the Wolves had their way with the Rockets only getting two blocks all game long. The only thing that made the game close was Mike James making only 3-of-12 shots, but he did have 10 assists – 7 more than Alston. So even on a bad night for James, he still was able to prove he was the wrong man the Rockets said bye-bye to last summer during the free agency period.

On the bright side, Shane Battier made 7-of-12 shots and hit 4-of-7 three-pointers for 20 points. Solid as always. So was Juwan, who was 7-of-14 with 19 points, and Dikembe grabbing 13 boards. And Lucas was 3-of-5 with only one turnover.

All I know is that all the praise the Rockets were getting having won four games in a row without Yao is going to be long forgotten if they lose to Chicago Monday night in a back-to-back.