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Chronicle: Rockets plug leak, clobber Clippers

Discussion in 'Houston Rockets: Game Action & Roster Moves' started by vtkp99, Apr 8, 2004.

  1. vtkp99

    vtkp99 Contributing Member

    Jun 30, 2002
    Likes Received:

    April 8, 2004, 3:49AM

    Rockets plug leak, clobber Clippers
    LA's right team at right time to end skid

    LOS ANGELES -- Suddenly, the Rockets were smarter and swifter. They were more determined and more poised, better than they had been in weeks.
    The symptoms in their collapse had been clear, even if the diagnosis of their ills had inspired debate and a variety of theories about their cause.

    But there was no questioning the cure.

    Bring on the Los Angeles Clippers and drink deep.

    In a meeting of a sinking ship and the NBA's traditional ship of fools, the Rockets began Wednesday night with greater intensity and focus, then sliced through the Clippers' traffic-cone defense to end their five-game losing streak with a 102-79 win before a Staples Center sellout of 19,469.

    "The last few weeks have been a nightmare," Rockets center Yao Ming. "It felt really good to play the way we did. To play at the level we did was really refreshing."

    The victory -- the Rockets' first without overtime since March 13 when they beat Memphis to move to a season-best 13 games over .500 -- kept the Rockets two games ahead of Denver, Portland and Utah.

    The Nuggets visit Toyota Center on Friday, and the Rockets play the Jazz in Salt Lake City on Saturday.

    The Nuggets, having beaten the Rockets last Friday and coming off Wednesday's whipping of Phoenix, would seem a far greater test than the Clippers, who ran their losing streak to 12 games.

    But with the Rockets having lost nine of 12, the opponent was far from their only problem.

    "It's not about who we're playing, but how we're playing," Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy said. "We need to play better. You can psychoanalyze. Some of the reasons have been Minnesota, Lakers, Denver, Sacramento -- and Golden State's won 10 out of 12. The other part is we've slipped dramatically."

    Both factors in the Rockets dramatic late-season collapse were reversed Wednesday.

    They played a team that showed only passing interest in distracting its opponent, and the Rockets radically improved their own play.

    The Rockets (43-35) made 52.6 percent of their shots and eight of 16 (50 percent) of their 3-pointers.

    Before Wednesday, their slide had been on the defensive end. But they held the Clippers (27-52) to 35.4 percent shooting, the worst against the Rockets since they played the Suns on March 15.

    "We definitely got our edge back defensively," Rockets forward Maurice Taylor said. "We kind of let up a little bit, but we got it back. I think we got our swagger back."

    Cuttino Mobley, who found the Clippers' defense too lead-footed to stop him, and Jim Jackson, who began the rout, led the Rockets with 21 points apiece. Steve Francis had 10 points and 11 assists, and the bench combination of former Clippers Taylor and Eric Piatkowski combined for 22.

    So dominant were the Rockets early, they led by 21 points in the first half without taking a free throw.

    They did not go to the line because the Clippers did not get close enough to foul them. After Jackson's three consecutive 3-pointers snapped the Rockets out of their game-opening jitters -- a stunning condition for a game against the Clippers, but not for the circumstances -- the Rockets routinely got to the rim.

    The Rockets not only made 26 of 45 shots in the first half, but they scored 28 points in the half on layups or dunks and had 34 in the paint.

    The Clippers were so porous inside, it was a wonder the Rockets did not take every shot underhanded. Yao, Taylor and Kelvin Cato all had dunks so powerfully slammed down that Clippers fans cheered as if they were there to see an All-Star rookie game.

    "We (had been) lackadaisical (and) not playing defense," Mobley said. "We had to come out aggressive. We got on them quick. That's Rockets basketball."

    When the lead reached 26 points less than four minutes into the second half, Clippers fans were cheering for particularly flashy misses by the home team.

    The Rockets held their largest lead, 71-45, when Yao knocked down a jumper from just inside the 3-point line. But in the next seven minutes heading into the fourth quarter, they were outscored 15-2. LA's 10-0 run knocked the lead down to 73-60.

    Clippers forward Peja Drobnjak even had a trey that could have brought the Clippers to within 10. But he missed, Piatkowski swished his 3-pointer to stop the run and Francis ended the quarter and began the fourth with four quick points to take the lead back to 20. The Clippers never challenged again.

    "We got back to what we normally do," Francis said. "We played defense and we moved the ball really well. We've got a good opportunity these next couple of games to clinch a playoff spot."

    Just like that, the Rockets felt reinvigorated with the balm of a feel-good win over the Clippers and a postseason goal that seemed credible, instead of a malicious taunt.


    Rockets summary

    Yao talk

    With his center as frustrated and dejected as he has been after any game this season, Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy met with center Yao Ming on Wednesday, Yao said, to lift his spirits and to return his focus solely to each game.

    "I just have to realize I don't have to think about all the games we have to play to make the playoffs and just think about tonight," Yao said of his talk. "If I can make every night like that, we can look back and say, `All right, we made it.' "

    In the Rockets' losing streak, Yao has averaged 16.2 points, making 45.9 percent of his shots, and 8.6 rebounds.

    "In the five-game stretch, he hasn't played very well," Van Gundy said. "Overanalysis by Yao over his own game or over-worry ... is needless. He has to free his mind, react, play as well as he can, and the results will be as the results will be.

    "Some guys in the league don't take the game or the results seriously enough, some at times, a little too much so it inhibits the play. I think Yao has been (worrying) too much right now. He just needs to play the game, and the results will be whatever they are.

    "This conversation has happened a few times, now. There have been a number of times it has been addressed. I'd rather take a guy who cares too deeply and wants to carry a burden, too much of a burden, than the other way around. I would say that you're not going to find too many players sleepless at night over the results of a game. For him, his play would be better served not to get over-worried and overanalyzed. It's counterproductive."

    Francis fallout

    Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy did not necessarily agree with Steve Francis' assertion that Van Gundy's intensity has left players afraid to make mistakes. But he did not mind that Francis said it or thinks it.

    "I don't know what his intention was," Van Gundy said. "I don't even try to guess. If it was to try to place blame, I deserve some blame. Coaches are in charge of getting good results. Obviously over the five games, I haven't gotten them. If that was the intent, I shoulder much of it.

    "I would say we would be better off staying the course, staying united. Furthermore, I would disagree with the premise that we're too tentative. Over the five games and 10 games (before Wednesday), every offensive stat is up. If tentative play results in poor shooting, our shooting percentages have been up. Our points have been up. What I see is not that. I see a sloppy, careless-with-the-ball team that turns it over, and a team that has not played up to its standard of excellence defensively or rebounding-wise."

    The Rockets made 45.9 percent of their shots and averaged 91.4 points per game during the losing streak. Opponents, however, averaged 98.6 points per game on 46.2-percent shooting.

    "You can't blame the coach," Francis said. "The players play. He comes up with the game plan. But we have to execute. Ninety percent is on the players."

    Asked if worrying too much about making mistakes has hindered his game, Francis said, "At times, but not for the most part. Definitely not all the time."

    Francis believes the team as a whole has worried too much about mistakes only "at times."

    "Some days, we might be out there like that," Rockets guard Eric Piatkowski said. "But right now, it's we're playing not to lose. There is a little pressure."

    Said forward Maurice Taylor: "We have to just focus on the task at hand. We talked about that in our (daily) meeting. There are a lot of what-ifs. We want to just focus on winning ballgames."
  2. PhiSlammaJamma

    Aug 29, 1999
    Likes Received:
    Wait until the playoffs when the playoff pressure is amped. Crack or unite. The pressure is going to intensify.

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