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Chron: This team packing a wallop

Discussion in 'Houston Rockets: Game Action & Roster Moves' started by garthomps, Mar 17, 2005.

  1. garthomps

    garthomps Contributing Member

    Jul 7, 2002
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    This team packing a wallop
    Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle

    They became something special right about the time Juwan Howard agreed to a change in job description.

    He'd be the first to say he didn't transform the Rockets by himself. He'd be the first to say he simply did what was asked of him.

    He has always been that way, which is why teammates, coaches and front-office personnel have always liked Howard so much. And that's why the Rockets are going to miss him.

    "Juwan gave us things that were more subtle than statistical," coach Jeff Van Gundy said. "The last two months he played his role as well as anyone on the team."

    And there had been other factors.

    There was that brilliant trade for David Wesley, who brought a tenacious defensive presence and an outside shooting touch. There was Bob Sura taking over the point with energy and a raging competitive fire. And there was Tracy McGrady becoming comfortable in his new uniform.

    Somewhere amid the mixing and matching of lineups and roster spots, Van Gundy made it all work. He may not be the NBA's Coach of the Year, but he should be on every voter's short list.

    Howard was part of things, too. He began the season as a starter at power forward, found himself at the end of the bench for a couple of games, and returned after a talk with his coach.

    Van Gundy asked him to focus on rebounding, defense and protecting Yao Ming on both ends of the floor. That's not as simple as it sounds, because Howard established himself as a solid NBA player by being an early scoring option and a so-so defender.

    Yet he did what was asked of him, and his rebounding got better. The Rockets are 30-5 when they win on the boards. Sometimes complex games are about simple solutions.

    Howard worked harder at defense. He made shooting a secondary part of his game. On a team that has played with cohesion and heart, he was a perfect fit.

    Not every NBA player would have been so quick to make such a sacrifice. Think New England Patriots in baggy shorts.

    No time for excuses
    It would be impossible to understand how much Van Gundy loves guys such as Howard. Yet when he learned Howard would be sidelined at least four weeks with a right knee injury, when he learned he'd be forced to find another combination that worked, Van Gundy refused to give his team an excuse.

    "We have more than enough to win with if we have the right attitude and approach," he said. "We've shown that when we come with the right attitude and approach, we can beat anyone any time. If there's a minor change, we can be beaten by anyone."

    Got that?

    Van Gundy spoke those words an hour before the Rockets routed Portland 108-77 Wednesday night. Clarence Weatherspoon stepped in for Howard and became the 16th player to start for the Rockets this season. He and Scott Padgett combined for seven points and 11 boards, and absolutely nothing changed.

    The Rockets won because their starting backcourt — Sura and Wesley — went 15-of-18 from the field and because the pieces are fitting together better than at any other time in recent years.

    "We've got a ton of weapons," guard Jon Barry said. "It's going to be pretty rare that all those weapons are not firing."

    Just fill in the gaps
    At this point, the Rockets could take two guys from Delaware State and keep going. They have no idea when or if Howard will return. They don't know how much longer Sura's screaming back will hold up.

    And they're not worried about any of it. They may be better than any Western Conference team other than San Antonio, and as an NBA Western Conference executive said: "When they're shooting like this, they're going to be hard for anyone to beat."

    The Rockets shot 51 percent against the Trail Blazers. They've been at 48.7 percent or higher in four of the last five games.

    Way back last summer, their blueprint called for surrounding Yao and McGrady with veterans. They did that. Their seven players with at least 10 years of NBA experience are the most in the league.

    They've been forced to make trades, shuffle lineups and overcome injuries, but with 18 games left, they're sprinting into the playoffs on a 23-8 run.

    "They have to be considered a legitimate threat," Blazers guard Damon Stoudamire said. "San Antonio is the team to beat. Houston is right behind them. They are right on their heels."

    The Rockets are the sixth-seeded team in the Western Conference but are just 2 1/2 games behind Dallas in the race for the fourth seed. If they pass the Mavericks, they'll have home-court advantage in the opening round of the playoffs.

    An extra home game would buy them nothing more than a chance. At the moment, the Rockets don't look like they need much more.

  2. The_Yoyo

    The_Yoyo Contributing Member

    Dec 25, 2001
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    nice article and good to see damon recognizing the possibilities for the team
  3. RunninRaven

    RunninRaven Contributing Member
    Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Jun 16, 2000
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    What the Rockets are doing this season really reminds me of what the Grizzlies did in the last half of last season. They tore things up for a while and stormed into the playoffs. But then they sputtered. I still think the reason that team faltered in the playoffs is because they lacked a defined "go to" guy. The Rockets have that, so it seems the sky is the limit come playoff time. No level of success would suprise me as well as they are playing. I just hope we don't bomb out in the first round.
  4. steddinotayto

    steddinotayto Contributing Member

    Aug 10, 2001
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    i try to stay as level headed as i can during this win streak but i just can't help think how well this team can do and how far they can go in the playoffs. even if their shooting % dips a bit, they can still defend and play "JVG ball" and grind out a win. And if their shots are falling, it's game over. And I don't have that fear that they will sputter in the playoffs...especially with the vets they have on the team. Mutombo, Wesley, TMac, Mike James, Howard...these guys have been there before. I doubt they'll have a deer-in-headlights syndrome come playoff time.

    To think, if we would have had a healthy Sura at the beginning of the season and not Mr. Heisman at the point, we probably would be chasing the Spurs instead of the Mavs.
  5. Hmm

    Hmm Member

    Oct 24, 2001
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    Not gonna happen. T-mac's been through that, too much of a competitor to allow himself to have part in a first round early exit. Yao's gonna pick up his game come playoff time just like last year, this time he won't be as tired. Barry, Mike, Sura, Wesley aren't gonna go down like that. Barry's always been hungry, closest came when he had Peja and C.Webber two superstars known for choking in the playoffs. This time, Yao and T-mac, Yao had hand in cancelling the low post match up in his first and only playoff hunt, T-mac has a career 29ppg in the post season. Mike's been through it and won and is dying for more. Sura's as much fire and determination with smarts. Wesley's gonna follow suit. And Deke's so rejuvinated he's saving up all his finger wags just for playoff time, the guy's excited and hungrier than ever to win not just the playoffs but a second place in all time blocked shots.

    PF spot isn't gonna be a problem with all that, JH will be back, Padge's gonna rain the three, C. Spoon will be as decent as he can be. :p

    We're going all the way to the finals baby!! :D
  6. BigM

    BigM Contributing Member

    Jul 1, 2001
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    the only similarities between the two teams is that they both got hot from the mid-point on. this rockets team is built for alot more success then that grizz team, particularly since we can excel in the halfcourt which they could not. also we have mcgrady. i think you figured that out halfway down your post though. :D
  7. Gatorfan76

    Gatorfan76 Contributing Member

    Jul 26, 2003
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    Did anyone catch this at the Chronicle ? Anyone know anything about James Thomas ?


    Rockets Summary

    Power options

    With Juwan Howard out for at least four weeks, the Rockets could look to add a power forward and still have both available for the playoffs. But they are more likely to at least see how the current rotation works before adding a free agent or a NBDL player, particularly with the maximum of 15 players under contract, including four healthy power forwards in Clarence Weatherspoon, Scott Padgett, Ryan Bowen and Vin Baker.

    The players most likely to get the Rockets' attention, should they look to add another player, would likely be former University of Texas center James Thomas, now playing in the D-League, and former NBA power forward Corie Blount, a free agent. Thomas would be the more likely choice. He played nine games for the Trail Blazers this season under consecutive 10-day contracts and showed a knack for rebounding, averaging 3.9 in 12.4 minutes.

    Players that were free agents or in the D-League before March 1 could be eligible for the postseason.
  8. Gatorfan76

    Gatorfan76 Contributing Member

    Jul 26, 2003
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    I found this online about James Thomas


    Spurs ready to release ex-Longhorn Thomas

    Web Posted: 10/25/2004 12:00 AM CDT

    Johnny Ludden
    Express-News Staff Writer

    The Spurs will waive forward James Thomas today, leaving them with 16 players on their roster.

    Thomas, who left Texas as the school's all-time leading rebounder, appeared in four preseason games with the Spurs. He totaled seven points, nine rebounds and six turnovers in 43 minutes.

    Thomas was not drafted, but he signed with the Spurs as a free agent the week before training camp opened. Only a fraction of his $385,277 salary for this season was guaranteed.

    The Spurs invited Thomas to training camp after watching him play against Malik Rose, Philadelphia forward Kenny Thomas and Indiana center Jeff Foster at the team's practice facility in September.

    Though James Thomas held his own in those workouts, he didn't help his chances of making the team when he struggled during conditioning drills early in camp. He also admitted last week he was having some trouble learning the Spurs' system.

    "I'm not picking it up as fast as I did in college," Thomas said. "It's kind of difficult for me right now until I learn the offense."

    Thomas received his most extensive playing time Thursday against Philadelphia when he fouled out in 17 minutes with two points, three rebounds and four turnovers. Even if he had played better, he still would have had a difficult time making the team because the Spurs already have NBA veterans in Rose, Robert Horry, Tony Massenburg and Sean Marks to help back up Tim Duncan and Rasho Nesterovic.

    Thomas said the back injury that bothered him during his senior season at UT has healed. A key contributor during the Longhorns' run to the 2003 Final Four, he played only sparingly in last season's NCAA tournament.

    Thomas wore No. 2 with the Spurs because it represented how many minutes he played during UT's season-ending loss to Xavier.

    "That (game) is nothing but motivation for me," Thomas said during camp. "My teammates worked hard and I guess they deserved their playing time. But when you're the school's all-time leading rebounder and I go out there and give it my all, I at least deserved — and earned — to play more than two minutes."

    Thomas' rebounding skills likely will get him another opportunity to make an NBA roster, if not this season then next. He said last week that he hadn't yet considered playing overseas or gaining experience in the NBA's developmental league because he was still focused on trying to stick with the Spurs.

    "I believe I can play in this league," Thomas said. "I know I can play in this league — I'm talking about right now. I'm not giving up on this until the last whistle."
  9. Rudyball

    Rudyball Contributing Member

    Oct 9, 1999
    Likes Received:
    If the Rox sign a power forward it would be for a long tenured veteran who more than likely has played for Van Gundy in the past.
  10. franchise23

    franchise23 Contributing Member

    Aug 3, 2002
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    Does that mean Oakley is coming back. He fits all of JVG's criteria...old and a former Knick. ;)
  11. krosfyah

    krosfyah Contributing Member
    Supporting Member

    Aug 7, 2001
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    AKA...there is no chance in hell JVG will sign this kid mid season...or ever.
  12. daoshi

    daoshi Contributing Member

    Jul 6, 2002
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    I somewhat agree with you, but I believe the biggest difference between the regular season and playoff Grizzlies is their 12(?) man rotation.

    When you play that many guys, you usually have an advantage over the other teams during the regular season, especially in the later part of the season when everyone nurses their body parts, or caught teams with tired legs on b2b nights,etc. But in playoff, teams have more rest between games, more time to prepare, so those 12-men-rotation advantage was no longer that obvious to them.

    What's kept the Rockets in the game has been their defense, and the hot shooting also helped them blow away the opponents. I doubt Wesley/James/Sura can sustain that kind of shooting in playoff, but their defense will keep them in the game, and then Yao & TMac can bring them home.
  13. Uprising

    Uprising Contributing Member

    Dec 29, 2000
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    And farther! ;)
  14. m_cable

    m_cable Contributing Member

    Dec 12, 2002
    Likes Received:
    Yeah baby. Interstellar Championships, here we come!

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