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Minnesota defends Yao well, beat Rockets 90-84

Wednesday, December 6th, 2006
by John
Kevin Garnett puts much of his weight in defending Yao Ming in the paint Wednesday night.  Tough Timberwolve defense against Yao held him to his lowest shooting percentage of the season (26%), yielding only 14 points in 41 minutes in a 90-84 loss in Minneapolis.Kevin Garnett puts much of his weight in defending Yao Ming in the paint Wednesday night. Tough Timberwolve defense against Yao held him to his lowest shooting percentage of the season (26%), yielding only 14 points in 41 minutes in a 90-84 loss in Minneapolis. Click here for more photos.

Yao had his worst shooting game of the season Wednesday night in Minnesota, shooting only 26% (5-of-19) and scoring only 14 points in 41 minutes in a 90-84 loss to the Timberwolves. It looks like the rest he was able to enjoy the previous night by taking the fourth quarter off didn’t help.

Kevin Garnett, Mark Blount and Craig Smith showed they can play defense, too. There’s a reason the T-Wolves are third in the league in opponents’ scoring average (92.9 points per game). They did a good job pushing him further away from the basket than he likes to be, which happened to him earlier this season and resulted in a poor shooting night.

You would think if teams knew that’s what it took to contain Yao, they would do it all the time. But give credit to Yao for being strong enough and fighting hard to get great position against most of his opponents and average 26 points per game.

The fourth quarter was especially disastrous for Yao. He was called for a very questionable tech – his first of the season — after posterizing Eddie Griffin on a dunk and belting out a yell.

Later on he was called for goaltending against Troy Hudson, which gave the T-Wolves an 85-77 lead with a little over 5 minutes remaining.

Shortly afterwards, Yao was blocked at the rim by Garnett, but grabbed the rebound and blew a layup. I had just written a few days ago how impressed I was that Yao wasn’t blowing chip shots this season like he had done so often in previous seasons. After the game, Yao vowed, “I will make those next time.”

Throw in 7 turnovers on the night for Yao, and you have his worst overall night of the season.

Yao didn’t get much help from his partner Tracy McGrady, who also finished with 14 points and shot worse than Yao (didn’t think that could be possible), making only 5-of-21 shots, missing all 3-point attempts, and turning it over 5 times himself.

So although the Rockets have a decent 12-6 record, it’s clear they aren’t as good against tougher competition. Even with such a bad night for Yao and T-Mac, at least they didn’t get blown out. They had a chance to tie it very late in the game with a three-pointer, but like all night, they couldn’t get off a decent shot and lost.

Yao and Battier wonderful in win over Wolves

Tuesday, November 28th, 2006
by John
Yao prepares to lay in one of his 11 field goals Tuesday night against Washington.  Yao scored 25 points and grabbed 10 boards in a 82-75 win, while Shane Battier chipped in with 17 points in a game where Tracy McGrady was limited because of an injury.Yao prepares to lay in one of his 11 field goals Tuesday night against Washington. Yao scored 25 points and grabbed 10 boards in a 82-75 win, while Shane Battier chipped in with 17 points in a game where Tracy McGrady was limited because of an injury. Click here for the game story.

Where would the Rockets have been last night with Yao and Shane Battier? Both players shot lights out (Yao: 11-of-15, Shane: 6-of-11) while every other Rocket struggled (13-of-53 combined). But the Rockets’ defense and some timely three-pointers late in the game prevented Minnesota from completing a fourth quarter comeback.

Despite the Rockets propensity to lose big leads this season – this time they lost an 11-point lead to allow Minnesota to tie it at 68-68 with 4:42 remaining – they were able to close it out, thanks to Shane hitting two treys in a row (he made an incredible 5-of-5).

Then Rafer Alston made up for a poor shooting night (4-of-15 overall) to hit a three, and followed with a runner in the lane to make it 79-70, and that was the ballgame as the Rockets finished with a win, 82-75.

Alston has impressed me this season to hit big shots down the stretch, even when he has struggled shooting earlier in the game. He has made me forget this year about the Rockets’ inability to sign Mike James this off-season, who finished with only 4 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, and one steal in 23 minutes. Meanwhile, Rafer scored 13, had 7 assists, 3 steals, and grabbed 3 rebounds

Although the Rockets are known for losing big leads in the fourth quarter, they are winning (they have won 9 of their past 11), and I have said all along it doesn’t matter if they lose leads. Just win, baby. And if you lose leads and still figure out a way to win, it just makes you stronger later in the season when the pressure gets really intense. Yao seems to agree:

“Actually, at the point it’s getting close, I’m not nervous,” Yao said. “I didn’t feel worried. That’s the way we play. We’ve gone through this many times.”

Tracy McGrady got hit in the abdomen late in the first quarter and was in-and-out of the game all night long. He finished with 8 points (4-of-14) and 7 assists in 32 minutes of play.

It doesn’t look good for him to play against Phoenix on Wednesday night, but at least the injury didn’t occur in his back where things could get really scary after missing so many games last season, leading to a disastrous record.

Without Yao, Rockets lose third straight

Wednesday, April 12th, 2006
by John

Since the Rockets are out of the playoffs and Yao is hurt, my reports for the remaining four games are probably going to be very short…especially since I’m working some late hours at work, and I haven’t even started my tax return yet!

No surprise that Houston lost its third in a row Wednesday night. What’s sad is that they blew an 18-point lead (their largest blown lead of the season), and lost 82-79 to a Minnesota team that had lost 14 road games in a row.

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


To see the boxscore from the game, click here.

T-Mac’s back requires Yao to pick up slack

Tuesday, March 7th, 2006
by John
Yao rises above the T-Wolves for a beautiful hook shot on his way to 30 points, 13 boards and 4 blocks in an impressive Rocket win over Minnesota without T-Mac in the lineup.Yao rises above the T-Wolves for a beautiful hook shot on his way to 30 points, 13 boards and 4 blocks in an impressive Rocket win over Minnesota without T-Mac in the lineup. Click here for more photos from the game.

by John

TUESDAY, 3/7/06 – Before the Rockets game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, it was announced that T-Mac wouldn’t play so that he could rest his back.

I then wrote down a note to myself that said, “If the Rockets win this game, it will be quite an accomplishment.” After all, the odds were stacked against them. They were playing without T-Mac (2-13 without him) on the road against a Minnesota team that also is vying for the 8th and final spot in the Western Conference playoff race.

And as we continue to witness the evolution of his greatness before our eyes, Yao Ming came up with yet another dominating performance, scoring 30 points, grabbing 13 boards and blocking 4 shots to propel the Rockets to a huge 93-87 victory Wednesday night in Minneapolis.

The chips were on the line, and he delivered big-time. The only thing he didn’t do was hit all of his free throws. He missed all four of his FT attempts in the first half (0-for-4), but he made all eight of his attempts in the second half to finish 8-for-12 from the line.

Also coming up big was Houston’s team defense. The Rockets trailed at the beginning of the fourth quarter 67-61, but then locked down on D and forced the T-Wolves to make only 1-of-19 shots in the quarter while the Rockets went on an amazing 18-3 run to take a 81-70 lead with 1:52 remaining.

It would have been cool if the Rockets could have played good defense through the final 1:52 and hold Minnesota to 3 points overall in the quarter, but then they (e.g. Rafer Alston) started committing stupid fouls and putting Minnesota on the line.

The T-Wolves ended up scoring 17 more points in garbage time to salvage their reputation, but give credit to Houston and their defense. It was a thing of beauty as they forced Minnesota to take bad shots.

Houston was awful in the first half. In the first quarter, the Rockets shot only 35% and trailed 25-16. In the second quarter, both teams shot terribly, with each team shooting 1-of-7 to start the quarter. But that’s when Yao made his move, shooting 4-of-7 from the field. Excluding Yao, the rest of the team shot only 3-of-15.

Except for that fourth quarter stretch where the Rockets clamped down, it was frustrating through the whole game watching lots of boneheaded plays, like missed layups (Keith Bogans, Alston), traveling on the way to an easy layup (David Wesley), throwing dumb passes when they had wide-open layups (Luther Head, among others), and missing 17 free throws!! (28-of-45)

Even with all those mistakes, Yao came through when the Rockets needed him most. He also got help from Alston, who hit 4-of-7 three-pointers. Without those threes, Minnesota would have run away with this game in the first half. Also chipping in was Stromile Swift, who went strong to the hole, finishing with 11 points on 4-of-7 shooting, and playing great D.

Houston is now only 3 games behind the Lakers for that final playoff spot, but they have a tough back-to-back on Wednesday night against Indiana at Toyota Center. The Pacers are in the middle of a pack of teams in the Eastern Conference where only two games separate the fifth team (currently Indiana) and the #8 team.


To see the boxscore from the game, click here.

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

Yao almost ready to return. Rockets miss his presence Friday in loss to T-wolves

Friday, January 27th, 2006
by John
Yao gets in a workout before Friday's game against the Timberwolves.  Although Yao didn't play in the game, he is expected to be back in action around the middle of next week.Yao gets in a workout before Friday’s game against the Timberwolves. Although Yao didn’t play in the game, he is expected to be back in action around the middle of next week. For more photos from Yao’s workout, click here.

by John

FRIDAY, 1/27/05 – It looks like we’re only a few days away from Yao being back! Yao, who has missed 18 games since having toe surgery on December 19th, said on Friday, “Everything is going well. I’m getting close.”

Too bad he wasn’t in the lineup against the Timberwolves on Friday night. After winning 3 of their last 4 games, it looked like the Rockets may have righted the ship and were ready to put some of their miseries behind them. They had good chances to beat Minnesota, but the T-wolves’ trade for Ricky Davis really paid off.

Davis, who was traded from Boston yesterday in an exchange involving several players, didn’t need any time at all to get acclimated to his new team, scoring 26 points to equal Kevin Garnett‘s 26.

On the other side, T-Mac ‘only’ scored 19 points on 6-of-19 shooting. Who knows, he might have been bothered by a plastic mask he wore after getting hit in the nose after his last game [click here to see photos of the scary-looking thing.] David Wesley and Rafer Alston both shot only 6-of-15, dragging down the Rockets’ field goal percentage to 40% while Minnesota hit a sizzling 49%.

I won’t go into the details since a loss is a loss. But you can read more about the Rockets’ missed chances by clicking here.

On the bright side, Stromile Swift came back from a 9-game absence (because of pink eye) and played well, scoring 19 points on 7-of-13 shooting. Chuck Hayes continues to show he is NBA material, scoring 12 points on 5-of-10 shooting, and grabbing 7 boards in 27 minutes.

The Rockets next play Miami on Sunday where they will need all the rebounding help they can get against Shaq and the boys.


To see the boxscore from the game, click here.

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

Rockets pull through in fourth quarter…finally

Tuesday, November 15th, 2005
by John
Yao puts up a hook shot over Minnesota's Michael Olowokandi on Tuesday night.  Despite a rough start for Yao and the Rockets, Houston made a comeback in the second half to trip up the Timberwolves.  Yao finished with 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting, and grabbed 7 rebounds.Yao puts up a hook shot over Minnesota’s Michael Olowokandi on Tuesday night. Despite a rough start for Yao and the Rockets, Houston made a comeback in the second half to trip up the Timberwolves 94-89. Yao finished with 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting, and grabbed 7 rebounds. For more photos from the game, click here. Photo courtesy of NBAE via Getty Images.

by John

TUESDAY, 11/15/05 – Finally the Rockets showed some heart in the fourth quarter of a game Tuesday night, beating Minnesota on the road 94-89. The victory wasn’t pretty, but these days they will take any victory they can get. Give credit to clutch plays by T-Mac in the fourth quarter, and some long-awaited scoring by a supporting cast that had gone AWOL for most of the season.

Yao got off to a terrible start. In the first three minutes, Michael Olowokandi took Yao to school twice for two buckets, got Yao to pick up two fouls, and blocked one of his shots. It was an inauspicious start for Yao.

Meanwhile, the Rockets missed 8 of their first 9 shots and quickly fell behind 11-2. I thought, “Uh-oh, here we go again.” This time the Rockets didn’t have the excuse they had on Sunday of playing back-to-back games since they hadn’t played in 48 hours.

Read the rest of this entry »

Juwan’s absence makes a difference in loss to T-wolves

Sunday, March 20th, 2005
by John
Yao battles against Minnesota's Michael Olowokandi on Sunday night.  Yao's stats were okay (21 points, 5 rebounds and 3 blocks in 21 minutes), but the Rockets were easily beaten by the T-wolves 94-86.Yao battles against Minnesota’s Michael Olowokandi on Sunday night. Yao’s stats were okay (21 points, 5 rebounds and 3 blocks in 21 minutes), but the Rockets were easily beaten by the T-wolves 94-86. For more photos from the game, click here.

by Chia-Chi

SUNDAY, 3/20/05 – Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy said this before the Timberwolves game on Sunday night: “My players believe they’re already guaranteed a playoff spot, and I’m thinking disaster is right around the corner.” The former explains why the Rockets played without their normal energy until the fourth quarter, and the latter describes tonight’s game: disaster. The Rockets lost their second straight by getting outplayed once again, this time 94-86 to Minnesota.

The Timberwolves, fighting for their lives in a race to capture the last playoff spot in the Western Conference, played like a hungry team all four quarters and established a lead early on that couldn’t be overcome. The Timberwovles simply wanted the win more and the Rockets, for a variety of reasons, just couldn’t match the intensity.

But this loss can’t be blamed on a lack of effort completely. The absence of Juwan Howard continues to haunt the Rockets and present defensive nightmares, such as when backup center Dikembe Mutombo briefly played the power forward position against Kevin Garnett.

We may have taken Howard for granted because of his demure attitude, but his defensive and offensive prowess have been critical factors in the Rockets success. Without his presence, the team needs to compensate in ways that has a chilling downstream effect.

The team’s shooting woes also continued, accentuated by T-Mac‘s horrendous 4-22 shooting. As a team the Rockets were frustrated by a physical Minnesota defense, as exemplified by T-Mac shoving Sam Cassell when his screen was a little too close. But even the foul calls that the Rockets got went to waste, as the team shot only 68% from the charity stripe.

On a night where the Rocket sharpshooters hit nothing but the rim, Yao had a surprisingly effective game offensively. As normal, Yao received the ball early in the first quarter and he scored the team’s first six points.

In the second quarter, it was nice to see nearly every possession continuing to go through Yao. He seemed to be involved in every offensive and defensive play, whether it be scoring in the paint, passing out to his teammates for easy points, blocks, or drawing fouls on his opponents. Yao got the Timberwolves centers in so much foul trouble that they had to play their third-string center against him.

But Yao’s performance alone was not enough to derive a win, and the Timberwolves’ lead extended past 20 points.

The Rockets made a valiant push in the fourth and actually played with hustle, getting defensive stops, steals, and scoring efficiently. But a 20+ point lead was too much for the Rockets to overcome, and Garnett and Cassell would not allow their team to lose. The Rockets came within 8 points, the smallest point difference in the game, in the final minutes. But it was too little, too late.

The Timberwolves were a team that the Rockets would have beat with Howard in the lineup. How the Rockets fill this hole will be critical in their remaining games as they play the Heat, the hottest team in the league right now, in their next game on Tuesday night.


John’s take of the game

Okay, when you’re scoring star (T-Mac) is struggling (4-of-22 on Sunday for 15 points) and your power forwards (Scott Padgett and Clarence Weatherspoon) substituting for the injured Juwan Howard only score four points, you’re going to have problems winning ballgames.

Obviously, other guys need to step it up with those kinds of scoring problems. Even though Mike James scored 13, Yao only scored three points above his season average (21 on Sunday), Bob Sura scored 7 points, and David Wesley only scored six. Dikembe scored 5 and was even inserted alongside Yao in the lineup at one point in the third quarter to try some “Twin Tower” action, but it didn’t last long as Deke was forced to guard Kevin Garnett, which was ‘no contest.’

So with very little scoring and Sam Cassell and Kevin Garnett scoring 18 and 30 points, respectively, there is absolutely no way you’re going to beat a desperate Minnesota team fighting for their playoff lives, especially when you only shoot 35% from the floor and miss 15 free throws (32-of-47, with Yao missing 5 out of 16).

With the trading deadline long past, the Rockets can’t make any big deals now. That’s why they had to sign a guy they cut earlier this season, Torraye Braggs, who is on his way over from Russia and should be in uniform Tuesday night against Miami.
All I can say is that if Braggs plays before reserve forward Vin Baker does, then it’s really sad to see Baker has lost so much of his former self. Wouldn’t it be great to see Baker make a comeback with a strong contribution while Howard is out? Don’t count on it.

As badly as the Rockets played, they had a chance when they went on a 15-2 run to close the gap to 86-77 with six minutes remaining in the game. They could have cut the deficit to 7 points when T-Mac stole a T-wolve pass and dished it to Dikembe in front of the rim, but he blew the layup.

Then the Rockets missed two three-pointers in a row, and couldn’t grab a rebound after two consecutive Minnesota misses. A few minutes later, Bob Sura turned the ball over on a fast break, and then the Rockets missed another three-pointer, and that’s all she wrote.

All I’ve got to say is that there is probably little chance the Rockets are going to win Tuesday night against Miami, the hottest team in the league and the toughest matchup for Yao (Shaq) that has ever lived. As a result, the quest to overtake Dallas for the fourth playoff spot and gain home field advantage in the first round of the playoffs is slowly slipping away.


Yao has monster game to beat T-wolves

Friday, February 4th, 2005
by Chia-Chi
Yao and Minnesota's Michael Olowokandi face off against each other in Minneapolis on Friday night.  Yao had an outstanding game where he played with lots of confidence, scoring 23 points, racking up 14 rebounds and blocking two shots to help the Rockets win in overtime, 119-113.Yao and Minnesota’s Michael Olowokandi face off against each other in Minneapolis on Friday night. Yao had an outstanding game where he played with lots of confidence, scoring 23 points, racking up 14 rebounds and blocking two shots to help the Rockets win in overtime, 119-113. For more photos, click here. Read Chia-Chi’s analysis below, and John’s take of the game directly below that.

by Chia-Chi

FRIDAY, 2/4/05 – Tonight’s 119-113 victory by the Rockets over the Minnesota Timberwolves was more than just one win. As we approach the two-thirds mark of the season, every game becomes more important as the contenders for the playoff spots become more apparent. Both the Rockets and the Timberwolves are in precarious situations holding the 7th and 9th spots in the West, respectively, and could very well be competing for the 8th and final spot near the season’s end.

Yet regardless of how important this game was, there weren’t that many great dramas or big plays. It was just two great teams with great players and big aspirations playing hard. To use Jeff Van Gundy‘s favorite words, they played with a lot of heart tonight.

The first quarter was well-balanced with former Rocket Sam Cassell leading the charge for the Timberwolves, scoring three of their first four field goals. The Rockets did manage to stay within striking distance, though. All the Rockets’ starters scored, with Juwan Howard scoring six points in the quarter while Yao only scored two points. After one quarter of play, the Rockets trailed 26-33.

The second quarter was still a bit rough for the Rockets but they slowly and confidently inched back into the game. Yao had a couple of nice buckets as he seems to be rediscovering his range and his turnaround. T-Mac was great offensively, not only scoring and finding his own openings, but often drawing fouls for extra points. Even Rod Strickland had a series of nice plays and buckets.

Bob Sura continues to play at an excellent level using his speed to drive into the paint. In one amusing moment, Sura had words with a ref about a foul call he thought he deserved after a Kevin Garnett block. After Sura got a technical foul, both Yao and McGrady had to come over and pull him away to prevent him from drawing his second technical. It seems his temper is all too known by his teammates. At the conclusion of the second quarter the Rockets were down 54-58.

The second half was when Yao awoke and started asserting himself. It started with a hook shot. Then another when Yao made a shot and was fouled by Michael Olowokandi, who was ineffective guarding Yao. It seems Yao attracts bad calls from the refs. Fortunately at times it can work in the Rockets favor since Yao’s shot clearly came after the foul. Later in the quarter Yao had a nice one-handed offensive rebound and dunk.

In a change of behavior, Yao was passing it out more when he was guarded by multiple defenders, which he seems to be doing more lately. Normally the Rockets would expect him to power through three defenders when he has possession of the ball from an offensive rebound or nice catch with good position. But lately it seems he is passing it more to an open man rather than risking a turnover. As the Rockets’ three-point shooting improves, I see this as a viable option to bulldozing through defenders.

T-Mac also stepped up late in the third, scoring five consecutive points by faking his defenders and drawing the foul. Juwan Howard also hit two jumpers in the quarter. Howard’s performances have improved so dramatically from the beginning of the season that it might soon become expected to see him score in double-figures on a constant basis. The Rockets clearly controlled the tempo of the game as they took the lead for the first time since the first quarter, 83-79.

While the Rockets maintained the lead the Timerwolves wouldn’t quit. Behind a run by Wally Szczerbiak, the Timberwolves pulled within three early in the fourth. Kevin Garnett also scored with some nice post moves. Trenton Hassell also had a great quarter. In one exchange, Yao pulled down an offensive rebound and finished with a huge lunging dunk over Hassell. On the opposite end, Hassell exploited his speed against Yao after a screen to sneak by a dunk of his own. Hassell tied the game two free throws later at 100-100.

At this point Sam Cassell took over for the Timberwolves and scored two points with confidence to put them up by two with 27 seconds left in the game. But T-Mac hit a clutch jumper of his own to tie the game. Cassell had one more opportunity to win, but he missed, leading to overtime.

In OT the Rockets and T-Mac were too much for the Timberwolves. Right from the start, the Rockets scored five quick points for the lead which they never relinquished. Two missed free throws from McGrady and a missed free throw from Wesley kept the door of opportunity for the Timberwolves open, but they failed to get the defensive stops and the rebounds. The Rockets continued to control the tempo that they had from the second half and won a great game 119-113.

How’d Yao do?

Yao finished with 23 points, 14 rebounds and 2 blocks. While he started off cold in the first quarter, he came back with a vengeance in the second half. Even the commentators gave Yao props on his improved stamina and aggression in the game. Let’s hope Yao continues this play as the Rockets face the Lakers on Sunday, less Rudy T. and Kobe.


Bonus coverage: John’s take of the game

I couldn’t help but comment how entertaining of a game this was. Although the Rockets seemed to be missing lots of shots in the first half (20-of-44), all of the shot attempts seemed to be smart ones. They were also passing the ball crisply to each other without the offense really ever stagnating. As Chia-Chi mentioned above, Yao was playing with aggression. I loved one play in the first half where he made a spin move on former Rocket Eddie Griffin, took it to the rack, and threw it down with authority. Hey Eddie: that’s what you get for going nutso and messing up our power forward situation after we drafted you as the #3 pick a few years ago, traded Kenny Thomas because we thought you were the future of this team, and for us giving up the chance to keep now-superstar Richard Jefferson. But that’s a completely different story. Back to the game…

On defense, even though the T-wolves had the lead at halftime, the Rockets were working hard to cover them without giving up easy shots. Indeed, the Rockets were spirited and were determined to make a strong showing on national TV. More importantly, they seem to believe that they are becoming one of the better teams in the league considering all the victories they have piled up lately (14-6 after trading for David Wesley).

In the third quarter, the Rockets continued to impress on offense, outscoring the T-wolves 29-21 thanks to 9 free throws. Even more impressive, the Rockets didn’t turn the ball over once in the quarter.

I loved the play of Bob Sura, who made a sweet spin move on a defender in the open court late in the fourth quarter to give the Rockets a 102-100 lead. That was a clutch play that I didn’t think he had the physical ability to do. Although the game went into overtime, Sura hit a big three-pointer to give the Rockets some much needed breathing room. I picked up Sura in my fantasy league a few weeks ago, and despite a bad knee and dislocated finger, he has done extremely well for me. I can’t believe I was able to pick someone up of his caliber at this point in the season. Sura finished with 20 points, 5 rebounds and 6 assists on Friday night.

Yao played one of his best games of the season. In the fourth quarter he really hit some big shots, obviously feeling more confident in shooting his fadeaway jumpers and draining a few of them throughout the course of the game to rack up 23 points on 10-of-19 shooting. He also had some big rebounds when they needed them, finishing with 14. Now THAT’S the Yao we have been hoping to see every night: Dominant.

Of course, we can’t finish the evening without talking about Mr. Clutch, Tracy McGrady. He was simply awesome, hitting big shots when the Rockets needed someone to step up as the T-wolves continuously threatened down the stretch. I love it when T-Mac hits big shot after big shot on the road, drawing oohs and aahs from a crowd amazed by this guy who they only get to see in their own arena once or twice a year. Houstonians are lucky that they get to see him every night on TV if they so choose. T-Mac scored 9 points in the fourth quarter, and another 9 in OT to finish with 40 points. Let’s not forget about his 13 rebounds and four assists, either.

At the end of the game, you can tell the Rockets have much more confidence in themselves, both on the court and on the bench. You can tell these guys know how to win. T-Mac, Yao, Sura, Barry, Padgett, Wesley, Dikembe, Juwan, and even Clarence Weatherspoon and Rod Strickland all seem to be coming together as a team, with smiles all around. Who would’ve thunk it when the Rockets were one of the most boring teams to watch on offense just several weeks ago. A few trades later, and they are now one of the most polished.

You’ve got to give credit to Jeff Van Gundy for taking players from all over the league, putting them together, and getting some relatively quick results. Also give him credit for changing his normally boring, slow-it-down style by loosening the reins on T-Mac and the offense to now consistently score over 100 points a night.

I can’t wait for Sunday’s game, and I’m not talking about the Super Bowl. The real fun will be a few hours earlier when the Lakers come into Toyota Center. The Rockets seem to be playing at a higher level now, perhaps making the quantum leap where they can now be considered favorites in this game and many others. How quickly a season can change.


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