Saturday, January 19, 2008

Houston Should Be A Playoff Team.

Watching the Houston Rockets look as though they were set to begin to pull away from the San Antonio Spurs early in the third quarter it seems reasonable to call them a favorite to take one of the last spots in the conference, despite currently sitting in the tenth spot in the West standings. They managed to hold the San Antonio to 42% shooting in the first half (the mark would eventually rise to 45% by the end of the game), in line with their current placing of second in team defensive efficiency, a tenth of a point ahead of Detroit and New Orleans, but after getting out to a ten point lead, they were only a couple of Manu Ginobili quick jumpers from finding themselves back in a close ball game.

The lead came after a nice run to end the first half, following a slow first quarter and a half highlighted by forced shots in transition without numbers, missed contested jump shots, and limited touches for Yao Ming in the half-court. With defense and hustle, and not often inept offense, carrying the day, the Rockets' play resembled something from the mind of Mike Brown and not the (somewhat) lauded Rick Adelman.

When Jeff Van Gundy was fired and Adelman hired (along with the pickups of Francis, James, and Scola), it was generally assumed that while they wouldn't defend as well, that their offense would be improved. That hasn't really been the case, the team is currently ranked 17th in offense efficiency, they'd ranked 14th a year ago. What stretched the lead to double digits, Houston's willingness to take long twos (it does seem that they're much better off when it's Bonzi taking these shots and not Alston and Head, by the way) either quickly in the shot clock or at the end of a 20+ second-long possession featuring a great deal of dribbling and maybe one or two passes, inevitability aided the Spurs coming back as, in what should be surprise to no one, the shots eventually stopped falling.

Houston held on to win, despite a stretch in which they missed seven consecutive field goals in the fourth quarter, thanks to great fourth quarter defense and clutch rebounding from every position. They were able to grab five offensive rebounds in the final two and half minutes, and what I've come away with after having my first chance watching the 07-08 edition of this team is just how strong they should be, and I have to think would be, if they were able to sustain consistent offensive production. What seems strange to me is how little Yao was given the ball within the half-court set. It seemed as though most of his touches came off loose balls and offensive rebounds, whether this perception was accurate, I'm not sure, but with an offensive talent like Ming, and with poor play-makers like Alston, Head, Brooks, etc. playing as many minutes as they did, it's strange that he didn't see the ball more.

Random thoughts following the game:
  • I don't necessarily want to hate Fabricio Oberto, but he makes it difficult. At least after he gets called for a foul on his flops he doesn't hold out his palms in indignation, with his eyes bugging out of his head like a certain San Antonio big man.
  • I'd like to see more of Carl Landry, he struck me as a rich man's Chuck Hayes. He finishes plays, steals rebounds, and is able to find the open man when he's pressured in the paint. After only seeing him in one game, he's now one of my favorite players that doesn't play for a team I'm necessarily a fan of (fantastic achievement!).

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