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Yao may have to shoulder the load in Oklahoma City

Saturday, March 24th, 2007
by John
Yao pounds fists with Dikembe Mutombo in Saturday's practice in Houston.  Mutombo won't play in Sunday's game against New Orleans because of knee issues, and neither may Tracy McGrady.Yao pounds fists with Dikembe Mutombo in Saturday’s practice in Houston. Mutombo won’t play in Sunday’s game against the Hornets because of knee issues, and neither may Tracy McGrady. Click here for more photos of Yao at the practice. Click here for photos of other Rocket players during the practice, including Bonzi Wells, who may be activated for Sunday’s game.

The Houston Chronicle reports that Tracy McGrady has been battling the flu, so he is questionable against the Hornets Sunday. Also, Dikembe Mutombo is definitely out because his knee still is bothering him. So that may leave Yao as the main offensive option, and he may have to log more minutes than normal since Deke is unavailable to provide relief minutes to Yao. Look for seldom-used Jake Tsakalidas to get some playing time on Sunday.

Hornets sting Houston

Saturday, February 3rd, 2007
by John

If anyone had any thoughts the Rockets don’t need Yao because of how well the they have been playing lately, all they need to do to understand how wrong they are is look at the Rockets’ 87-74 loss to the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets Saturday night. That’s the 20-26 Hornets, the same team that had lost 11 of their last 12 road games, and is the league’s lowest scoring team.

Remember that loss to Denver five weeks ago that gave the Rockets a dose of reality? That’s nothing compared to this loss.

It was an ugly offensive showing for Houston. They scored only 15 points in the first quarter, a season low, as well as 30 points in the first half, another season low. By the third quarter, Houston was shooting only 32%.

This game also showed just how much the Rockets might need Rafer Alston in order to win, a scary proposition since Alston only shoots 36.9%. But after he got into some tough talk with Desmond Mason for hammering T-Mac on a layup attempt in the first quarter, both he and Mason were thrown out.

I didn’t really think it would affect the Rockets’ offense too much since Luther Head is a capable backup point guard and T-Mac is still very adept and finding the open man.

I actually had a little bit of respect for Alston since he didn’t back down on Mason, and wasn’t going to let his superstar teammate get assaulted like that without hearing about it. I’m glad somebody did.

Ironically, former Rocket Mike James showed the same fire in that Mavericks playoff series a couple of years ago. Van Gundy wasn’t too pleased with James losing his cool about the refs blowing several calls in a crucial Game 7, and even though the game had long been decided in a blowout loss. That off-season, James was traded for Alston. So should we expect another trade of the latest rendition of a Houston hothead for someone more ‘composed,’ like Seattle’s Earl Watson?

I doubt it. Alston has been playing better lately, even with the poor shooting, racking up all kinds of assists and turning the ball over very little in comparison. And although I’m sure Van Gundy will be tough on Alston for getting kicked out of this game, the loss of continuity would be too damaging to the offense.

Without Alston, the Rockets’ offense bogged down, even with T-Mac having shaken off the pain in his left wrist following the hard foul by Mason. Repeatedly the Rockets settled for 3-pointers, but hit very few of them (4-of-20 through the 3rd quarter). Live by the three, die by the three.

Meanwhile, the Hornets weren’t doing much better offensively, only leading 33-30 at halftime. But in the 3rd quarter they started hitting their shots, and led by 18 points at one point late in the third quarter, but thanks to a Bonzi Wells three-point play and a very long T-Mac 3-pointer at the third quarter buzzer, the Rockets cut the deficit to 14 points, 63-49, heading into the third quarter.

But the Rockets couldn’t close the gap to start the fourth quarter, so in a last desperate attempt, Van Gundy said enough is enough with Juwan Howard and Chuck Hayes, and put in seldom-used Steve Novak and Scott Padgett. I applaud the attempt to mix things up, but it didn’t work.

Novak and Padgett really didn’t do anything, and on one Hornet possession, Novak got mixed up on defense and left Jannero Pargo open for a 3-pointer to push the lead up to 70-51. Van Gundy was visibly upset that Pargo was left so wide open, called a timeout, and pulled Novak out.

The Rockets ended up scoring their lowest number of points for the season (74). They were out-rebounded 49-36, and the Rocket starters were outscored by the Hornet starters 49-29.

The only bright spot was Bonzi Wells providing some low-post scoring, scoring 13 points (8 in the fourth) to give them a small chance to come back. But without Yao being the go-to guy when T-Mac couldn’t really take over (7-of-16 for 18 points, well below his 29 ppg over the last 17 games), all Rocket fans were reminded how much they missed the Big Man once the Rockets’ shooting confidence plummeted.

Early foul troubles plague Yao again in loss to Hornets

Monday, November 6th, 2006
by John
Yao shoots over New Orleans/Oklahoma City's Tyson Chandler on Sunday night in New Orleans.  Yao picked up 3 early fouls in the game's first five minutes, which limited him to 27 minutes of action and only 11 shots, leading to the Rockets losing 96-90.Yao shoots over New Orleans/Oklahoma City’s Tyson Chandler on Sunday night in New Orleans. Yao picked up 3 early fouls in the game’s first five minutes, which limited his playing time, leading to the Rockets losing 96-90. Click here for the story. Click here for more game photos.

For the second game out of the Rockets first 3 games of the season, Yao has reverted to getting in foul trouble again, something we thought he had conquered late last season when he went on his phenomenal run.

It’s questionable if some of the fouls being called on him are legit, but it’s clear Yao needs to understand once again that he is more prone to having the refs call fouls on him simply because he’s a bigger guy who will attract more attention from the refs’ whistles.

On Sunday night in New Orleans, Yao picked up 3 fouls in the game’s first 5 minutes, and it restricted him to just 27 minutes of play and 11 shots, leading to just 17 points coming on the heels of his huge 36-point game the night before against Dallas. The Rockets could have used his help, who lost to New Orleans 96-90.

But it’s not all Yao’s fault. The rest of the team struggled, too, hitting only 40.5% of their shots collectively and turning it over 20 times while New Orleans shot much better (47%) and kept much better control of the ball (15 turnovers).

Tracy McGrady continues to struggle, making only 5-of-15 shots and committing 5 turnovers. Perhaps T-Mac is having a hard time adjusting to the new Spalding basketballs. Like Jeff Van Gundy said after the game, I believe in the greatness of McGrady and I think he’ll straighten things out soon.

Luckily the Rockets have more scoring power at other positions to help out this season when T-Mac struggles, as we saw Saturday night against Dallas. Shane Battier hit 5-of-13 three pointers to lead the Rockets in scoring in this game.

But unlike the Dallas game, no one else really stepped up. Rafer Alston, who looked so good Saturday night, reverted to his old ways by missing 3 shots (including a layup) in the first quarter, and committed 3 turnovers. Overall, he finished with 13 points (5-of-12), only 3 assists, and 4 turnovers.

One trend is starting to become evident in this young season. Last year Houston was very strong on the road, finishing with a better road record than home one. This year is shaping up to be the opposite. They are 0-2 on the road, and 1-0 at home.

Rockets snap 6-game losing streak, Yao scores 22

Thursday, March 23rd, 2006
by John
Yao scores two of his 22 points on a nice dunk Thursday night in Oklahoma City.  The Rockets finally snapped their 6-game losing streak, and 0-for-13 record against Southwest division foes, beating the Hornets 93-92.Yao scores two of his 22 points on a nice dunk Thursday night in Oklahoma City. The Rockets finally snapped their 6-game losing streak, and 0-for-13 record against Southwest division foes, beating the Hornets 93-92. Click here for more photos from the game.

by John

THURSDAY, 3/23/06 – I’m writing this while I’m in the middle of pulling an all-nighter on some work stuff. As busy as I am, I wanted to jot a few notes about the Rockets-Hornets game Thursday night. I was able to watch the fourth quarter and was pleasantly surprised at how well the Rockets played down the stretch to pull out a 93-92 win in a very hostile Oklahoma City arena.

The win snapped a 6-game losing streak, and they finally beat a team in their own division this season after losing their previous 13 games against them.

Yao was money, of course. He hit 3-of-4 shots and scored six points in the fourth quarter to complete a 22-point, 8-rebound , two-block game.

So was Rafer Alston, who hit clutch jumpers late in the game to be the difference. He equalled Yao’s 22 points, and actually shot above .500 for once (9-of-16). Good for you, Rafer.

The difference in this victory was not only the big shots at the end of the game, but also the 26-10 third quarter advantage the Rockets enjoyed after trailing 54-45 at halftime.

Amazingly, the Rockets were out-rebounded on the offensive boards 21-3. Normally that would have meant another loss. But for once their shooting was excellent, hitting 49% of their shots, and 95% (20-of-21) from the free throw line! Where has that kind of shooting been all season? Meanwhile, the Hornets only shot 36% from the field.

You’ve also got to give props to Juwan Howard, who had another solid game with 16 points (5-of-7 from the field, 6-of-6 from the line) and 12 boards.

Even more incredible games…

As exciting as the Rockets victory was in the fourth quarter, I can’t help but write about two extremely exciting “Sweet 16” college basketball games that were being played simultaneously while the Rockets were playing. Yes, I was switching channels among all three games, and my fingers got tired.

I’m sure many of you hoops fans saw the college games I’m talking about, or at least saw the highlights. My undergraduate alma mater, The University of Texas, pulled out a dramatic victory with a buzzer-beating three-pointer to beat West Virginia. That final three-pointer made me jump out of my chair!

But less than 30 minutes later, I was in store for even more unbelievable excitement. My post-graduate university, UCLA, pulled out the most astounding comeback I have seen since T-Mac scored all those points (13?) in 35 seconds against San Antonio last year.

Down 17 points in the third quarter to Gonzaga, and trailing 9 points with less than three minutes remaining, UCLA was dead in the water. But they kept battling, and came up with a steal in the final few seconds remaining in the game, and scored on a layup to win one of the most incredible college basketball games in recent history! Man ,oh man!

I really felt bad for Gonzaga’s Adam Morrison, though. He was devastated, and his emotions after losing were as raw as you have ever see an athlete display. It was painful to watch it, and I feel bad for him. But I am excited about two of my favorite college basketball teams being in the “Elite 8.” In some way, it makes up a little bit for this lousy Rockets season we’re all going through.

john@YaoMingFanClub.com

To see the boxscore from the game, click here.

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

New Orleans-Oklahoma City continues Houston’s losing streaks

Saturday, January 14th, 2006
by John
Yao joins his teammates on the bench for the first time since having toe surgery a few weeks ago.  With Yao cheering them on, it looked like the Rockets were going to snap their losing streak, but their shots didn't fall in the fourth quarter, and they lost 86-80.Yao joins his teammates on the bench for the first time since having toe surgery a few weeks ago. With Yao cheering them on, it looked like the Rockets were going to snap their losing streak, but their shots didn’t fall in the fourth quarter, and they lost 86-80. To see more photos of Yao’s return to the Houston bench, click here. To read more about Yao’s recuperation, click here.

by John

SATURDAY, 1/14/06 – The Rockets continue to not execute down the stretch when it counts. They held a lead for most of their game against the Hornets Saturday night, but were then outscored 18-6 at the end of the fourth quarter to lose their fifth straight, 86-80, and their sixth straight at home.

Other than the Hornets beating Houston for the fourth time in a row, there is really nothing else worth reporting for this game except Yao was able to sit with his teammates now that he is cleared to wear a shoe over his big toe. Before, he couldn’t sit on the bench because the NBA dress code requires injured players to wear shoes.

As you can tell, I have decided to file very brief reports while Yao and T-Mac are out. Even I have my limits to the amount of pain I am willing to endure covering these guys.

John
john@YaoMingFanClub.com

To see the boxscore from the game, click here.

Rockets lose in last couple seconds to Hornets

Wednesday, December 28th, 2005
by John
Juwan Howard misses the second of two consecutive chip shots in the final moments of a tight game in Oklahoma City that could have led to a huge win for the Rockets.  Instead, despite 38 points by T-Mac and 26 points by Stromile Swift, the Rockets lost on a last-second shot by the Hornets' David West to lose a heartbreaker, 92-90.Juwan Howard misses the second of two consecutive chip shots in the final moments of a tight game in Oklahoma City that could have led to a huge win for the Rockets. Instead, despite 38 points by T-Mac and 26 points by Stromile Swift, the Rockets lost on a last-second shot by the Hornets’ David West to lose a heartbreaker, 92-90.

by John

WEDNESDAY, 12/28/05 – This loss is one of the toughest ones to swallow. I’m not exactly sure why. Every loss sucks, but this one is different.

Maybe it’s because the Rockets had T-Mac for a full game, not just a first half like the night before when he had to leave at halftime to witness the birth of his new baby boy.

Maybe it’s because T-Mac was unstoppable most of the game, scoring a season-high 38 points (11-of-25 shooting, 4-of-6 three-pointers), grabbing 8 rebounds, dishing 7 assists, getting two steals, and having a great performance wasted.

Maybe it was because Stromile Swift had his coming-out party as a Rocket — scoring 26 points and grabbing 13 rebounds – finally giving the Rockets another weapon for their feeble offense.

Maybe it was because if the Hornets’ Rasual Butler (averaging 0.5 three-pointers this season) hadn’t made three 3-pointers (and 15 points) in the fourth quarter alone, the Rockets probably would have won this game.

Or maybe it was because if Juwan Howard had not missed two consecutive point-blank shots with 1:26 remaining when the score was 90-86, they probably would have won this game.

With all the adversity late in the game for the Rockets, they still managed to tie the game at 90-90, making Howard’s missed shots loom even larger. But then the Hornets’ David West hit a jumper at the top of the key to go ahead 92-90 with 1.8 seconds remaining. Stromile had a chance to win it at the buzzer with a tough hook shot in the lane, but his shot was too hard off the glass and the Rockets lost their fourth in a row.

Except for that last shot, Stromile was amazing, hitting 9-of-15 from the floor on a combination of strong moves to the rack and jump shots that showed a lot of touch. Sure, he missed 3 free throws (8-of-11), but since he finished with 26 points, you can’t complain too much.

On the other hand, Juwan Howard, who has been outstanding recently averaging 19.3 points and 53% shooting over the past three games, struggled mightily by only making 3-of-13 and scoring 6 points. That really hurt.

Combine that poor shooting with Luther Head’s 1-of-10 shooting (1-of-7 from three-point land), and it was just too many bricks to overcome.

The game was a back-and-forth affair, with the Hornets jumping out to a 26-17 lead in the first quarter. New Orleans/Oklahoma City (a.k.a. “NOK”) ran the Rockets ragged as they went on a 9-0 run to take a 19-10 lead. They extended the run to 16-6 to lead 26-14, but T-Mac made things a little more respectable by hitting a beautiful 3-pointer with 1.8 seconds remaining to make it 26-17 heading into the second quarter.

The Rockets closed the gap by halftime to 51-47, but the stats weren’t pretty. NOK had a 16-8 advantage in assists, 24-8 advantage for points in the paint, and 17-0 lead in fast break points.

The third quarter is when the Rockets made their move, taking a 71-62 lead with 1:24 remaining in the quarter thanks to 10 points by Swift (4-for-4 from the field) and 9 points for T-Mac. Meanwhile, NOK shot only 6-for-17 from the field. The Hornets closed out the quarter on a 6-1 run to make it 72-68, but since T-Mac had some offensive help with Swift, you had to like the Rockets’ chances.

But T-Mac was double-teamed defensively almost every possession in the fourth quarter, was held to 1-of-4 shooting, and no other Rocket could make them pay. David Wesley was 0-for-3, Howard was 0-for-4, and Luther was 1-for-3. That ineptitude led to an 18-5 run by NOK, thanks to 3 straight treys by Rashual Butler to give them an 86-77 lead with 3:59 remaining.

Still, the Rockets fought back to tie it at 90-90, but David West’s shot with 1.8 seconds remaining capped an unbelievable 10-of-20 shooting quarter for NOK when they needed the points the most. It’s amazing this young team — which is not expected to have the poise of a veteran team like Houston’s — made the shots they needed to win while the Rockets didn’t.

In closing, I have another Mike James update: James scored 28 points, grabbed 6 rebounds and had 9 assists in Toronto’s win over Atlanta Wednesday night. Meanwhile, Rafer Alston missed his 17th straight game because of an injury. Ouch!

John
john@YaoMingFanClub.com

To see the boxscore from the game, click here.

Without T-Mac, Rockets get stung by Hornets

Saturday, November 5th, 2005
by John
Yao goes up against New Orleans/Oklahoma City's PJ Brown on Saturday night in a frustrating game for the Rockets, who led by 8 points with about six minutes remaining in the game, but got blasted by the Hornets down the stretch.  Playing without the injured Tracy McGrady, Yao scored 20 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and had 7 blocks in the 91-84 loss.Yao goes up against New Orleans/Oklahoma City’s PJ Brown on Saturday night in a frustrating game for the Rockets, who led by 8 points with about six minutes remaining in the game, but got blasted by the Hornets down the stretch. Playing without the injured Tracy McGrady, Yao scored 20 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and had 7 blocks in the 91-84 loss.

by John

SATURDAY, 11/5/05 – Recently whenever New Orleans has hit troubling times, Houston has been there to help. And I’m not only talking about Hurricane Katrina. I’m talking about the Rockets giving away games to the New Orleans Hornets last season, this preseason, and once again…Saturday night at Houston’s Toyota Center.

Houston and the Hornets played an ugly game against each other, but at least the Rockets had the game in hand in the fourth quarter leading 82-74 with 6:09 remaining. But then Houston’s offense shut down faster than the city’s freeways during a hurricane evacuation, or Houston Astros bats in a World Series. New Orleans/Oklahoma City (a.k.a. “NOK” for short) took advantage of Houston’s struggles, broke out of its own shooting slump, and blew past them on a 17-2 run to stun the Rocks once again, 91-84.

Yao was playing a great game, hitting 6-of-12 in the first three quarters for 16 points, and rejecting everything in sight (7 blocks overall, matching his career high). But he ran out of gas down the stretch (37 minutes of action, six minutes above his average) and missed 8 of his last ten shots. Jeff Van Gundy probably played Yao more minutes because of T-Mac’s absence, but it’s reasonable to wonder why JVG didn’t budget Yao’s minutes more wisely.

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Rockets finish preseason 6-2 after loss to Hornets in Oklahoma City

Thursday, October 27th, 2005
by John
Yao puts up a shot against P.J. Brown Thursday evening against the New Orleans Hornets in Oklahoma City, and finished with 16 points, 9 rebounds, and 3 blocks in 30 minutes of play.  In their last preseason game, the Rockets lost 89-88, and next look forward to their season opener on Wednesday, November 2nd.Yao puts up a shot against P.J. Brown Thursday evening against the New Orleans Hornets in Oklahoma City, and finished with 16 points, 9 rebounds, and 3 blocks in 30 minutes of play. In their last preseason game, the Rockets lost 89-88, and next look forward to their season opener on Wednesday, November 2nd. For more photos from the game, click here.

THURSDAY 10/27/05 – It was like deja vu of previous seasons’ losses to terrible teams like Charlotte and Atlanta on Thursday night. Houston had a massive 22-point lead against the pathetic New Orleans Hornets, but somehow ended up losing 89-88 in the last second of the Hornets’ new home debut in Oklahoma City. Thank God it was only a preseason game and it doesn’t count, but the Rockets cannot afford to have another breakdown like this one since it was the last preseason game before next week’s regular season opener on November 2nd.

The Rockets started the game without Tracy McGrady for a second consecutive night since he is still resting because of tendonitis in both knees. The Rockets started the same roster as its previous game against Utah: Rafer Alston at point guard, Derek Anderson at shooting guard, Ryan Bowen at small forward, Juwan Howard at power forward and Yao at center.

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Rockets lose to league’s worst, 76-73

Friday, April 1st, 2005
by John
Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy agonizes over a humiliating performance by his team to the lowly New Orleans Hornets, the team with the worst record in the league.  The Rockets lost 76-73 in part because Yao Ming did not play because of a calf injury.Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy agonizes over a humiliating performance by his team to the lowly New Orleans Hornets, the team with the worst record in the league. The Rockets lost 76-73 in part because Yao Ming did not play because of a calf injury. Click here for more photos from the game.

by John

FRIDAY, 4/1/05 – Yao was held out of Friday’s game night against the New Orleans Hornets because of swelling in his calf resulting from an injury that occurred late in Wednesday’s game against Portland.

What a difference it made. Without Yao, the Rockets struggled offensively more than anyone could expect, losing to the second-worst team in the league 76-73. The Hornets are now 17-54.

Ironically, like Yao, yours truly is not in very good shape. I have been laid up because of a bad case of the flu, so I’m going to have to punt on covering this game. If I had to skip one game to cover, this one is it since Yao didn’t play and the Rockets shot a dismal 31% from the field.

Now excuse me as I go back to sleep.

T-Mac gets hurt, but Rockets still win over New Orleans

Friday, March 25th, 2005
by John
Yao tries to swat New Orleans' Jamaal Magloire's shot on Friday night.  The Rockets struggled after T-Mac left the game because of an injury, but the rest of the crew pulled it out in the second half, beating the Hornets 81-68.  Yao scored 12 points and grabbed 7 boards in 24 minutes, once again plagued with foul troubles.Yao tries to swat New Orleans’ Jamaal Magloire shot on Friday night. The Rockets struggled after T-Mac left the game because of an injury, but the rest of the crew pulled it out in the second half, beating the Hornets 81-68. Yao scored 12 points and grabbed 7 boards in 24 minutes, once again plagued with foul troubles. Click here for more photos from the game.

by Chia-Chi and John

FRIDAY, 3/25/05 – In one of the scarier moments for Rockets fans this season, Tracy McGrady fell to the floor awash in pain three minutes into the first quarter. He repeatedly slapped the floor in agony as trainers rushed out to tend to him. He was eventually carried off by two teammates into the locker room.

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