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Chron: Rockets know playoff spot is there for the taking

Discussion in 'Houston Rockets: Game Action & Roster Moves' started by vtkp99, Apr 9, 2004.

  1. vtkp99

    vtkp99 Contributing Member

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    http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/printstory.mpl/sports/bk/bkn/rox/2495085

    April 9, 2004, 2:18AM
    Rockets know playoff spot is there for the taking
    By JONATHAN FEIGEN
    Copyright 2004 Houston Chronicle

    In the spirit of Houston gentility, maybe the Rockets knew what they were doing all along.

    That's it. It was all a plan. So simple, so fiendishly clever and perfectly disguised. How better for the Rockets to bring meaning to a late-season back-to-back against Denver and Utah than to lose their way back to the heat of the playoff race?

    With a grueling schedule of four games in four cities in five nights, ending (thanks, NBA) with a Saturday night in Salt Lake City, desperate measures were needed to bring import and urgency to the occasion of the Rockets facing two of their three closest pursuers on consecutive nights.

    It wasn't easy, but they did it, losing enough to shrewdly increase pressure and tension, even passion, for their very own pre-postseason test.

    "This is great," forward Maurice Taylor said, almost cackling, about a chance to clinch a playoff spot with a pair of weekend wins. "This is fun. You've got to love it. You've got two teams chasing us, and we're playing those two teams. It's great."

    Surely Wednesday's win over the Los Angeles Clippers, a team only marginally curious in the outcome of the game, could not have meant this much.

    Maybe the Rockets needed to lose five games in a row to have a chance at something meaningful now. This would explain such things as the sudden collapse of a defense that coach Jeff Van Gundy said had established an NBA standard; two losses at Golden State, where the Rockets had won 15 consecutive games; and even the losing streak, their longest this season.

    It would explain guard Steve Francis' sudden jab at Van Gundy regarding his excessively pressuring players to avoid the mistakes the coach detests, an obvious diversion from the real plan, if only because expecting the Rockets to avoid mistakes is like trying to teach cats to walk in a line.

    "Certainly, I need to do my job better," Van Gundy said. "But I just disagree with the idea we're being tentative. I see us being careless. Defensively, we set a standard in the league for 60, 65 games. Then for ... 12, 15 games, we haven't been up to the standard. That has nothing to do with tentativeness or not trying to make mistakes. That has to do with mental toughness."

    That, Francis said, has nothing to do with Van Gundy.

    "He has excellent game plans to help our team win," said Francis, who moved from Tuesday's rebuke to respect without backing off his original premise. "Now, if you watch our team day in, day out, you'll know who's on the same page. Me and coach are on the same page as far as the progress of this team.

    "Guys are playing like they don't want to make mistakes. Sometimes that's good, but sometimes that's bad. Bad because everybody wants to play perfect. Hopefully, people won't want to try to twist things up, because there's no conflict between any of the players on this team and our coach. As a voice, as a captain on this team, if there was I would step up and let it be known."

    Instead, the Rockets beat the Clippers 102-79 to end their losing streak and decided all is well, or at least close enough to get there.

    Not that Van Gundy, no matter how politely he is described, is going to change.

    "We're too far down the road," he said. "I'm not going to let anything take me off course. I'm also not going to apologize for being intense. The Rockets over this span have had two coaches, one a Hall of Fame (worthy) coach (Rudy Tomjanovich) who was accused of being too laid back, and now you have me who is too intense.

    "I just think styles are unimportant. Labels are ridiculous. Coaches are charged with getting results. If I judge myself right now, I'm judging myself harshly, too. I think I need to get results. But I don't think it's about if I'm intense or anything like that.

    "I think the main thing is to stay very united and together and not overly worry about everybody else -- Portland, Utah, Denver. We just have to do our job, focus on the here and now. We have to regain our defensive tenacity, rebounding intensity, and somehow try to handle the ball more carefully. The last 10 games (before Wednesday's win were) really substandard."

    But had the Rockets maintained their standard, or even slipped but won just enough to get to the postseason anyway, they could not have the make-or-break test of a back-to-back against the Nuggets and Jazz.

    "I don't think we ever envisioned ourselves when we were five games up on everybody having this skid here," guard/forward Eric Piatkowski said. "Now we're envisioning, if things don't go right, not even making the playoffs. So there is a little pressure.

    "I'm looking at it like the pressure might be good, because the pressure is going to be there in the playoffs. If you finish the season and slide right into the playoffs and don't have any pressure games, maybe it will be harder on you than having pressure these games when every game means a lot and there's a lot of pressure involved.

    "I didn't move halfway across the country not to make the playoffs. That was my intention. We would make the playoffs and not just be happy but do something when we're there. That's my mindset right now."

    If nothing else, Mr. Van Gundy successfully got that point across.
     
  2. vtkp99

    vtkp99 Contributing Member

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    Rockets summary
    Eager for rematch
    When the Rockets were not disparaging themselves for their sloppy play in last week's loss at Denver, they were busy pointing to tonight's rematch, hinting that they were handicapped by the schedule in their losses in the Nuggets.

    "Both times they beat us, they were home with us off a back-to-back after (playing) the Lakers," guard Steve Francis said. "We played a draining game on Christmas (in Los Angeles), and of course the game last week was after a prime-time game that took a long time, and guys were pretty tired.

    "This time, both teams will travel and rest."

    With two games separating the Rockets and Nuggets in the Western Conference playoff chase, tonight's game looms more important on its own merit than as a chance to avenge a bad loss.

    "They're a good team," Rockets guard Cuttino Mobley said. "They beat us twice at their place in back-to-backs. We're going to be ready for them. It's going to be a fun game."

    Defensive gem
    The Rockets held the Los Angeles Clippers to 79 points Wednesday, a feat that once was not terribly noteworthy.

    The Rockets limited opponents to fewer than 80 points 16 times in the first 50 games, but they did not do it for the next 27, a streak snapped Wednesday.

    In those 27 games, Rockets opponents averaged 94.4 points on 43.9 percent shooting.

    "We played hard defensively," coach Jeff Van Gundy said. "Some parts (the Rockets played well), some parts we'll try to do differently. We'll keep it positive."

    X-rays for Francis
    Guard Steve Francis had X-rays taken on his left elbow and right wrist after Wednesday's game, but no breaks were found.

    Francis has been playing with a badly swollen bursar sac in his left elbow, and he sprained his right wrist on a fall in Tuesday's game against the Golden State Warriors.

    He said the wrist was actually causing him more difficulty than the elbow.

    Finding a balance
    If there was ever a time when Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy had to fight the urge to keep his team on the practice court, this would seem to be it.

    With a five-game losing streak before Wednesday's win in Los Angeles and losses in nine of 13 games heading into tonight's game against the Nuggets, Van Gundy knew the Rockets needed the work. Coaches rarely hold practice on the day off during a stretch of four games in five nights, but Van Gundy also had to resist a temptation to hold shootarounds on Wednesday or this morning.

    "You have to be mindful that one of your most important jobs is how you pace the team to allow them to play well, which is preparation and rest in the combination," Van Gundy said. "Certainly when you're not going well, a coach's mindset is practice and practice and practice some more.

    "But we have some guys who right now I don't believe can play effectively and practice effectively. It's up to me to make those decisions. If we win, they're the right ones. If we don't, they're the wrong ones."

    Steve Francis (wrist, elbow), Maurice Taylor (elbow, shoulder), Kelvin Cato (shoulder) and Clarence Weatherspoon (calf) are all playing with injuries.

    -- JONATHAN FEIGEN
     
  3. Raven

    Raven Member

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    I am so glad I wasn't eating when I read this :D

    Raven
     

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