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Chron: Rockets focus on victories, not playoff pairings

Discussion in 'Houston Rockets: Game Action & Roster Moves' started by garthomps, Apr 18, 2005.

  1. garthomps

    garthomps Contributing Member

    Jul 7, 2002
    Likes Received:
    Seeds are cast to wins
    Rockets focus on victories, not playoff pairings
    Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle


    Jeff Van Gundy won't do it.

    The option is there, or at least it could be. Let Tracy McGrady keep the weight off his tendinitis-sore knees and allow Yao Ming to do the same for his often-tender left ankle. Rest a few players. Lose.

    Van Gundy could manipulate the playoff seedings just enough to choose the Rockets' first-round playoff opponent, either the SuperSonics or the Mavericks.

    He won't do it.

    The Mavericks would seem a more difficult matchup for a variety of reasons, most of all because they have a better record than the SuperSonics. Van Gundy is fond of saying, "You are what your record says you are," and that in itself would seem enough for him to consider Dallas a better team and Seattle a better first-round opponent. But if he could control entirely whom the Rockets will face in the first round, Van Gundy said he would not.

    "I've always thought this," he said of his opposition to manipulating playoff matchups. "When I was with the Knicks one year (1997), Charlotte ... beat us like a drum 3-1, beat us the last three games. The game we beat them, they didn't have a couple of their guys.

    "I know they dropped games at the end of the season so they could align themselves with us. And we swept them 3-0. They totally dominated us in the regular season, and we won three close games in the postseason. Since then, I've been convinced you're better off not wishing, because you may just get what you wish for. We're going to try to win every game. We're going to try to get the highest seed, and the biggest thing for us is to try to improve to be in position to win a first-round series, no matter who we play.

    "Then whoever we play is going to be a decided favorite, and who cares? We'll line up and play."

    Besides, there is always the danger of losing twice and finishing seventh, meaning a likely first-round matchup with the Spurs.

    Assorted scenarios
    After Saturday's blowout win over the Nuggets — a team that was enjoying a two-month run through most of the NBA — the Rockets are tied with the Kings for fifth in the Western Conference and hold the tiebreaker against Sacramento (conference record) and the Nuggets (head-to-head record). A fifth-place finish would set up a first-round matchup with the Mavericks. A fall to sixth would pit the Rockets against Seattle.

    If the Rockets lose one of their remaining two games against the Clippers tonight or Sonics on Wednesday, they can drop to sixth only if the Kings win their remaining two games.

    If the Rockets lose both remaining games, they can be sixth if the Kings win two games and the Nuggets win one, or if the Nuggets win twice while the Kings lose twice.

    If the Rockets were to lose to the Clippers and Sonics, they could fall all the way to seventh if the Nuggets win twice and the Kings win once.

    The Sonics, who have struggled at the end of the season while Dallas was finishing fast, are led offensively by guard Ray Allen, who would match up with the Rockets' best perimeter defender, David Wesley.

    The Mavericks are led by forward Dirk Nowitzki, whom the Rockets would have to defend with Clarence Weatherspoon, Scott Padgett or Ryan Bowen.

    But the Rockets insist they are no more seeking a matchup with the Sonics than they are trying to avoid one with the Spurs, contending the only motivation is hitting the playoffs at full speed regardless of opponent. As soon as the Rockets beat the Suns on April 9 to clinch a playoff spot, Van Gundy made it the team's goal to move up to fifth, inspiring or even ordering a determination to ignore postseason matchups.

    "We knew if we won out, fifth would be where we'd be," Padgett said. "We're focusing on winning more than being No. 5. We were concentrating on getting better. If we keep getting better, we're not concerned with No. 5 or No. 6.

    Confidence key
    "I think going into the playoffs, a big thing is going in with confidence and knowing you are playing your best," Padgett added. "If we do what we're capable of doing, if we play like we played for three quarters last night (against the Nuggets), we can play with anybody."

    After a season in which the Rockets have shown themselves capable of beating anybody (they have victories over five first-place teams) or losing to anybody (they have lost to every last-place club, plus Charlotte), Van Gundy looked at the playoff possibilities and made his choice. The Rockets will play to win.



    Rockets Summary

    • Clippers update: Closed out their home schedule with a 94-89 victory over New Orleans on Saturday night. Their 27-14 home record is the franchise's best in 12 years. Of course, that means they are a miserable 9-30 on the road. Could finish with a better record than the Lakers, which is about as rare as a smog-free day in Los Angeles.
    • The Clippers must: Stop the effectiveness of Yao Ming and Dikembe Mutombo in the middle and exploit their own mismatch with Elton Brand at power forward.
    • Rockets update: Working on a five-game winning streak after impressive thumping of red-hot Denver on Saturday night. Finishing the regular season on a seven-game roll with wins over the Clippers and Sonics would lock up the No. 5 position in the Western Conference playoffs. They are almost unbeatable when they are making their outside shots, and Tracy McGrady and Mike James sizzled against the Nuggets. The Rockets are trying to close out a three-game series sweep.
    • The Rockets must: Guard against the kind of mental letdowns that have gotten them beaten by the dregs of the NBA all season. The big win over the Nuggets will be meaningless if they give it back here.
    • Check out: The Rockets' intensity — especially at the defensive end — early in the game to see if they are still full of themselves after whipping the Nuggets.

    Baker wants to return
    Rockets forward Vin Baker will learn today whether his battle with arrhythmia will keep him out for the remainder of the season. He already knows that despite his disappointing stint with the Rockets since being acquired in February, he would like to be back next season.

    Baker has an option, worth $3.85 million, to extend his contract for one more season. Though he has played in only three games with the Rockets, he said that if his health allows, he would like to return.

    "It's been difficult," Baker said of not being able to win a place in the Rockets' rotation. "Obviously, coming here and being in a trade, with ( Maurice) Taylor going east, I thought I had an opportunity. With Juwan (Howard) unfortunately going out, I thought I had another opportunity. So it's been difficult, but I love my squad. I love being here. Being on a winning team and having the opportunity to win the big one is great. I just have to handle it professionally.

    "But I do want to be back. I'm going to find out what's going on with my heart, evaluate this summer and see what's best for me and my family.

    "The easy way out would be to say it's been great. But I still love the game. I want to be back. I still want to play."

    Short practice
    The Rockets might have spent more time getting taped and tying their shoes for practice than they spent in the practice itself Sunday.

    With coach Jeff Van Gundy concerned throughout the season about keeping his team's legs fresh, Sunday's practice consisted of 20 minutes going over the goals for the regular-season's final two games and reviewing Saturday's performance before the team moved on to individual shooting drills or weight-room work.



    Rockets' start chafes coach
    Van Gundy cites poor readiness against Nuggets
    Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle

    The Rockets may have turned a corner with their whipping of the Denver Nuggets on Saturday night.

    Then again, the Rockets have turned so many corners this season that they might be back where they started — a team still on a swing as the playoffs draw near.

    That was the nagging thought running through the mind of head coach Jeff Van Gundy, who has never encountered a silver lining without noticing the dark cloud.

    "First of all, our readiness to play was disappointing," Van Gundy said about the Rockets' falling behind 18-4 and 34-24 in the opening quarter against the Nuggets. "That was very disappointing.

    "Our effort over the last three quarters was good. But you can't minimize them playing back-to-back (games) and not playing with (center Marcus) Camby. I think we've had situations where we've been banged up and on the wrong end of the travel schedule, and it does have an impact. That's where, in the playoffs, everything sort of evens out.

    "But we need to make improvements (in) our readiness to play or sustain a good start. Rolls will get you beat in the playoffs."

    Van Gundy is the hair shirt who constantly chafes even in the best of times, and his players know that. Yet after all of the highs and lows of their wild season, the Rockets are coming to understand that he has a point.

    For the Rockets to advance deep into the playoffs — or maybe even get out of the first round — they are going to have to be far more protective of their home court and not allow opponents to set the pace early or control entire games.

    "We want to establish something here at home and play better," said Jon Barry. "This was one win, and it was a solid win. I'm just happy that when we got the lead we took care of business. We sometimes tend to stop playing when we get a lead. We got them down, and we kept them down, and that was very important."

    What isn't so important, to hear them tell it, is the Rockets' exact playoff position or trying to fret over and secure a specific playoff slot to get what might be perceived as a favorable matchup in the first round.

    By defeating either the Clippers tonight or the SuperSonics on Wednesday, the Rockets will finish no lower than sixth in the Western Conference. That means they would not have to face either Phoenix or San Antonio in the first round. But the difference between the No. 5 hole and No. 6 is drawing either the surging Dallas Mavericks or limping Seattle. In other words, by winning out, the Rockets could make things much harder on themselves.

    "We want to win out," insisted Scott Padgett. "From the point that we came from, if we win out, we will have a seven-game winning streak. If we end up at six, that's great. But the important thing is that we keep winning."
  2. kpsta

    kpsta Contributing Member

    Sep 2, 2001
    Likes Received:
    It's unfortunate that the words "Van Gundy" and "hair shirt" made it into the same sentence. But this is Fran we're talking about here... so we know a lot of thought didn't go into the article.
  3. Williamson

    Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Dec 6, 2002
    Likes Received:
    Going into the playoffs on a 7 game win streak sounds great to me.
  4. garthomps

    garthomps Contributing Member

    Jul 7, 2002
    Likes Received:
    I agree going in on a swing would be a hell of a lot better to "tanking" and trying to re-adjust

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