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Chron: Rockets avoiding playoff thoughts

Discussion in 'Houston Rockets: Game Action & Roster Moves' started by Rockets34Legend, Mar 5, 2004.

  1. Rockets34Legend

    Rockets34Legend Contributing Member

    Jun 12, 2002
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    MINNEAPOLIS -- The standings seem to tease, even promise. The Minnesota Timberwolves have built a four-game cushion for their hold on the second seed in the Western Conference. The Rockets seem so stuck in seventh they could set up housekeeping and plant vegetables.

    It would not seem much of a test of imagination to picture tonight's meeting repeating in April. First round. Rockets at Timberwolves.

    The Rockets will not, however, play along.

    As impressive as the Timberwolves have been this season, the Rockets could do worse for a first-round opponent. They have split with Minnesota this season and have gone 7-5 against the Timberwolves since snapping their six-game losing streak in the series. And while the Kings would not seem a good first-round matchup for anyone, for the Rockets any opponent might seem better than facing the Spurs or Mavericks.

    The Rockets insist that tonight's game at Target Center is no more than the next game on the schedule and a chance to move one game closer to the playoffs, rather than to get a sneak peek at what they could bring.

    "When you look at our schedule and you look at where we are, and you look at the history, we're not assuming anything," guard Mark Jackson said. "Nobody is going to give us anything. We have to go and get it. It's a great opportunity, and we're excited about it."

    Coach Jeff Van Gundy has often said that considering the Rockets' schedule and particularly their run of 11 road games in the final 16 games of the season, the team cannot assume anything about the playoffs. He has taken this position, he said, only as an answer to questions, rather than to send a message inside his locker room. But apparently, he didn't have to.

    "We haven't established anything until we make the playoffs," forward Kelvin Cato said. "We haven't gotten our goal. Have we clinched a playoff spot yet? Until we clinch a playoff spot, it's still basketball."

    Van Gundy cannot allow his team to believe it has accomplished its primary goal.

    Instead, he has continued to call for greater consistency.

    "I know we have to play every game," Van Gundy said. "For us to make it, we have to play (22) games and give ourselves a chance to win.

    "We should not assume that we're in. That would be first. We have a long way to go. And we have the toughest schedule. I think, what we should learn is that you play every game like the real good teams do. Play every night and then you let the wins and losses sort themselves out.

    "You deserve to go to the playoffs if you win enough games to go to the playoffs. I just always think that we sometimes want to put off the fact that the results will tell us if we're good enough for the whole season if we're in the playoffs. I think sometimes we want to think we get bonus points for certain wins."

    Center Yao Ming backed Van Gundy up.

    "There are times we're a very hungry team, going out and moving forward," Yao said. "Suddenly, who knows why, we slow down and lose that. We need to focus and continue to think like that."

    OK, but the standings are compelling evidence that the playoffs are at least a possibility -- as is the organization's taking orders for playoff tickets. And if the Rockets get to the postseason for the first time since 1999, they seem most likely to play the Timberwolves.

    "Obviously, there are teams we match up against and we're better against out there," guard Eric Piatkowski said of the Rockets' struggles against the Mavericks and Spurs. "But it's going to come down to the last game or two of the season.

    "I'm more worried about winning games now and making sure were are in the playoffs."

    That much is clear. Again.

    Piatkowski, like Jackson, argued that the Rockets could become a playoff-caliber team. They have been as inconsistent as ever. They headed to Minnesota after two straight home losses and three losses in their past five games. But they have cut down on their turnovers, and after getting back from Minneapolis, they have five home games to build momentum for the last 4 1/2 weeks.

    Leading eighth-place Denver by two games, the Rockets are 3 1/2 games removed from the lottery. They are four wins ahead of last season's pace and two wins better than they were through 60 games of the 2000-01 season when they went 45-37, the best record ever for a team that missed the playoffs.

    "I think we've underachieved," Piatkowski said. "I'm excited because I know how good we can play. The talent we have, when you put guys out on the floor like Yao Ming and Steve Francis, we can beat any team on any given night. We haven't had a lot of consistency. If (you) ask any of the top four or five teams in the Western Conference if they're going to want to play us, I don't they're going to want to play us.

    "I think our coaching staff is going to have us better prepared than almost any team in the league when playoff time comes. And I think we have the ability to beat anybody. Even though we haven't played as well as we should have, I think we're going to go ahead in the last (22) games and come playoff time be awfully good."

    He might have revealed an expectation that the Rockets will be a playoff team. Had they been at their best more consistently, he and his teammates, perhaps even Van Gundy, might have been able to openly make such a prediction. But despite their recent struggles, they still hold on to one of the conference's top eight spots.

    Van Gundy's point about the schedule is not just pessimism. But if the best teams truly are at their best in the last six weeks, the Rockets might have to be.

    "There's a point in the year those teams run off 10 of 11 or 11 of 13 or something like that," Francis said. "Hopefully, we can do that and put it in gear. We've displayed it in spurts. But now is the most important time for us to do it.

    "I just want to see us get in. I don't care (who the Rockets play). I just want to get in."


    Rockets summary

    Doing better

    In the Rockets' past four games, they have been outshot from the 3-point line in four and outrebounded in three (tying the Lakers in the fourth).

    But they won the first two and lost the fourth game by three points, largely avoiding a losing streak because they improved in the area where Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy has sought improvement all season.

    "The reason we won is because we kept our turnovers down," Van Gundy said. "It just shows you the power of the turnover, when you can be outshot in the game from the field and 3 and outrebounded, and because you commit less turnovers, you win the game. It shows you the power of handling the ball. You're not going to do everything well every night, but ballhandling should be one of those areas that are fairly consistent."

    Rockets players said they have improved in that area, committing just 11 turnovers in those four games, just because the emphasis has sunk in.

    They have moved from 25th in the NBA in turnovers to 22nd and are averaging 16 turnovers per game.

    "We've been a lot more careful with the ball, and we've been playing more effective basketball," Rockets center Yao Ming said. "We've gotten rid of a lot of unnecessary movements, the unnecessary turnovers."

    Upward mobility

    When the Rockets last faced the Timberwolves on Feb. 11, Yao Ming was just starting to take off offensively.

    In the season's first 36 games, Yao was averaging 15.3 points on 51 percent shooting.

    In the 24 games since -- including a 22-point performance on 9-of-16 shooting with 15 rebounds against Minnesota -- he has averaged 19.8 points per game on 56.3 percent shooting. He has had all six of his games with 25 points or more in the past 20 games.
  2. dn1282

    dn1282 Member

    Aug 8, 2000
    Likes Received:
    ;) ;)
  3. hitman1900

    hitman1900 Member

    Feb 22, 2003
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    U hear that Yao, JVG wants u to quit dribbling between ur legs and doing them no look passes.:D
  4. Raven

    Raven Member

    Jul 24, 2002
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    I got a queasy feeling just reading that.

  5. HillBoy

    HillBoy Contributing Member

    Apr 14, 2003
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    As did I. A quote on the counting of chickens comes to mind...
  6. count_dough-ku

    count_dough-ku Contributing Member

    May 19, 2002
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    I would feel the same except for that fact that it's Utah who's in 9th right now. It's very unlikely the Jazz will run off any sort of major win streak that propels them into the postseason(at least not ahead of both Houston and Denver).

    With Portland having gone into the tank as expected thanks to their tough schedule and Seattle collapsing due to their injuries and lack of frontcourt players, the Rockets should make the playoffs simply by default at this point.
  7. bsb8532

    bsb8532 Member

    Feb 25, 2002
    Likes Received:
    Is it avoiding playoff thoughts or just avoiding the playoffs?

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