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Chron: Rockets finding their bad habits are hard to break

Discussion in 'Houston Rockets: Game Action & Roster Moves' started by vtkp99, Apr 12, 2004.

  1. vtkp99

    vtkp99 Contributing Member

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    http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/printstory.mpl/sports/bk/bkn/rox/2500295

    April 12, 2004, 3:05AM

    Rockets finding their bad habits are hard to break
    By JONATHAN FEIGEN
    Copyright 2004 Houston Chronicle
    RESOURCES

    SEATTLE -- So the Rockets really weren't terribly interested in their Saturday night in Utah. What's the big deal?
    The game really did not matter. The best the Rockets could finish is seventh in the Western Conference, and they can clinch that tonight with a victory over the SuperSonics or Wednesday with a win over the Mavericks. They had played four games in five nights, seven in 10. But as disinterested as they might have been, the playoffs should get their attention.

    So big deal. They lost a meaningless game. The games that matter are still a week away.

    Makes sense, in a backflip-to-positive-spin sort of way.

    But the Rockets players with the most playoff experience weren't buying it. The Jacksons -- Jim and Mark -- have been there and back. Neither sounded ready to blow off the "meaningless" games or the warning signs of the Rockets' late-season slide into the playoffs.

    "As a guy that's been around long enough, I can tell you it doesn't just come. It just doesn't," said guard Mark Jackson, a veteran of 126 playoff games, 28 more than the rest of the team (including injured Adrian Griffin) combined.

    "Sometimes people individually and collectively think they're good enough to do that. But unless you search for it, unless you prepare for it, day in and day out, throughout the course of the year, it's not going to be there."

    It might seem a bit late to find it, assuming the "it" that has been missing is the determination to be an every-day team. There are not many days left.

    The logic that the import of the playoffs will help drive the Rockets past their difficulties in being consistently energetic and intense might offer hope. But the Rockets have had plenty of reasons to be energetic and intense before and failed. More worrisome to Jackson is that in his experience, teams generally are revealed for what they are in 82 games.

    "The teams that have that problem are the teams that go home," he said. "We have to do it every night, every game, every possession. When we do that, we're a heck of a basketball team. When we don't, anybody can beat us."

    With that in mind, the Rockets face their own demons in their final two regular-season games. With losses in six of their last eight games, the Rockets play teams -- Seattle and Dallas -- to whom they have lost five of six meetings this season.

    "It's common in the NBA, because if you haven't been to a particular point, you don't know how to react, and you don't know how to get there," Jim Jackson said of the Rockets' problems with consistency. "All the great teams went through it. It's nothing new. It's happened before. It's just that now we're going through it. So now you have to learn to adjust to it and deal with it.

    "One game we could be on top of the world, and the next we could be the worst thing that ever happened. It's a matter of just trying to find that consistency with this team, and that comes from the lack of experience, the lack of leadership that's been here before us. So as we gain that, you'll see more consistency."

    But if the Rockets are to grow into the kind of team the Jacksons believe they must be, this week's stretch drive might offer the type of challenge the Rockets need.

    "My concern about our team or my inherent concern has been the same since June 11 to now," coach Jeff Van Gundy said last week. "In that way, my concerns are the same. The results in an individual game, good or bad, have never swayed me.

    "The stakes are that you're trying to be a championship-level team, which you do day by day, week by week, month by month. And if you're only preparing because the stakes are higher now, that's where your failings are at. You play to your habits. So whatever your habits are as a team or as an individual, especially under pressure, are reflected. Our habits are being reflected right now."

    That said, Van Gundy on Sunday would not rule out things changing in time.

    "I'm not going to hazard a guess about whether a light will click on for individuals or the team," Van Gundy said. "I will not say no or say yes. The answers will be right there in results -- not just wins or losses but how we go about our business. But I can't say we can't get it.

    "Right now, it's problematic. It remains a problem for our team and for individual players."

    None of this will come as a revelation to Rockets players, and it does not take years in the playoffs to diagnose the problem, but the Rockets have not won consecutive games since March 22 and March 24, when they beat the Trail Blazers and Raptors in overtime. But even that does not reflect their inconsistency, given the extremes within games.

    "The thing about our team is we go to too many extremes," forward Maurice Taylor said. "We played at a high, high level (Friday against Denver), played with a lot of effort. We came in here (to Utah) and didn't give the same intensity or effort. We didn't play well from the start. In the playoffs, you can't do that. You have to be ready to play every night."

    Time might be running out for the Rockets to get the message, as Mark Jackson openly frets. But the Jacksons have not given up hope and, having preached the virtues of regular-season consistency, will seek to inspire postseason intensity.

    "We will, but you don't want to overemphasize it," Jim Jackson said. "You don't want to put more on it than it is. To me, it is another level you have to go to, but you still have to play the game of basketball. You still have to run; you still have to pass; you have to block out. Those things don't change. It's just the intensity at which you do it that has to change."

    Still, those who have been there would feel better if the Rockets' intensity improves before the postseason begins.
     
  2. vtkp99

    vtkp99 Contributing Member

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    Rockets Summary
    Matchmaking

    The Kings' win over the Lakers on Sunday might have been another step toward clearing up the Rockets' playoff possibilities.

    The Kings took a one-game lead on the Lakers for the Pacific Division championship with two games left. The Kings hold the tiebreaker over the Lakers and are currently the second seed in the Western Conference, with the Rockets alone in seventh.

    If the Rockets, with a two-game lead on Utah and Denver, win in Seattle tonight or beat the Mavericks on Wednesday at Toyota Center, they would be the seventh seed. If they lose both games and finish in a tie with either the Nuggets or Jazz, or in a three-way tie with Denver and Utah, they would be the eighth seed. In a three-way tie, the Jazz would miss the playoffs.

    The Timberwolves, who host the Jazz tonight, lead the Kings by one game in the race to be the top seed. If the standings remain unchanged, the Rockets would face the Kings in the playoffs' first round, with forward Jim Jackson going against his most recent former team.

    "That would be ironic if that were to happen," Jackson said. "But to me, it doesn't even matter. Because to me, I pretty much feel that we're very competitive and can (win) if we come out and play the way we're capable of playing.

    "I think in the Western Conference, whether you're the eighth seed or the first seed, it's going to be competitive, and you can beat anybody. It's a little different than in the past. Teams thought that being the first seed playing against an eight seed, that's an easy first-round win. But it's not like that now. There's too much parity in the league and too much competition. So whoever it is, it doesn't matter."

    The Kings swept the Rockets this season, while the Rockets and Timberwolves split the season series. But Rockets players said how they are playing is more important than who they play.

    "You can continue to try to play matchmaker," guard Steve Francis said. "I just think you want to go into the playoffs on a good note. You don't want to go in on a losing streak. We want to go in knowing, `Hey, we can ball with anybody,' and try to keep the same mentality."

    Style tests

    The Rockets' final regular-season games force them to face some of their greatest problems and perhaps one of the tests waiting for them in the playoffs. The SuperSonics and Mavericks feature perimeter-shooting forwards and explosive 3-point teams.

    The SuperSonics are the second most accurate 3-point shooting team, behind only the Kings. The Mavericks (11th in 3-point shooting) are the league's top-scoring team, with the Kings second. The Rockets are in line to face the Kings in the first round.

    "Every team is different," Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy said. "I don't think there is any extra benefit (in playing teams with similar strengths)."

    The Rockets have lost all three meetings with the SuperSonics this season. Van Gundy cites a variety of reasons.

    "(Vitaly) Potapenko's physicality against Yao (Ming)," he said. "They're disruptive defensively. Our passing and (lack of) ability to make good, quick decisions with the ball. They hurt us with size at the 3 with (Rashard) Lewis and shooting at the 4 (with Vladimir Radmanovic, who is out). Three-point shooting has been a huge key. We get beat off the dribble a lot. And our intensity to recover is not what it should be for some of our perimeter players."

    Crying game

    The Jazz on Friday became the latest team to note the Rockets' tendency to battle the officials with as much intensity as the opponent.

    "They were doing a lot of crying, a lot of talking to officials, and we got them out of what they wanted to do," Utah guard Raja Bell said. "You come into a team's building, and you don't think you're getting a fair shake -- whether you are or not -- it starts to play with your mind. You miss some shots, and it snowballs."

    -- JONATHAN FEIGEN
     

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