The Orlando Magic knew exactly how to beat the Rockets tonight, but it’s not as if it’s a league secret. With injuries to Houston’s few veteran post defenders the Rockets are simply unable to stop penetration in any form and cannot compete with stronger post players.
Poor defense, really poor rebounding, and poor point guard play largely contributed to Houston’s second half break down. At the start of the third quarter, Houston was only down by three points after a competitive first half. The Rockets got their shots, worked the Adelman system, and stayed toe to toe with the beefed up Magic who recently acquired Jason Richardson and Gilbert Arenas through mid season trades.
After half time the only Rocket who scored for close to ten minutes was Shane Battier who knocked down his personal favorites: the corner three pointer and the low post up hook. From there on Orlando took the hint and relentlessly inflated their lead. Kevin Martin had a good game finishing with 27 points on 8-15 shooting. Scola, who hasn’t been playing well recently, had 14 points and 5 rebounds. Kyle Lowry had 0 points and 5 assists in 21 minutes of play. Dwight Howard wasn’t the problem tonight, while he finished with 13 points, 11 rebounds and a block his play while the game was close was less than stellar. Brandon Bass and Jason Richardson were bigger problems for Houston who both finished with 18 points. Richardson missed only one shot, and it was one of his 5 three point attempts. The Rockets struggled to rotate to him and he took complete advantage. Brandon Bass combined a decent mid range game with a more intimidating post up game and really made Houston’s paint protection look laughable for a national audience.
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This game was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me. For a brief stretch Houston was looking decent, 8th seed playoff contenders at least, but with injuries to Chuck Hayes, a re-injured Aaron Brooks, and a all but toast Yao I think some trades need to happen. I’m not talking about swiping protected picks for project wing players, I’m talking about some stars or some centers. Houston has been toying with the idea of trading away Yao’s large expiring contract and I think that contract coupled with any of our youngsters on the bench and picks should be enticing enough to give us a shot at something we can build around. The Indiana Pacers have recently reversed their stance on Danny Granger as being ‘untradable’. Granger is 27, has had an off year, and never really been a star but it’s a start. He does everything well, including defend, and would be great to pair with Kevin Martin. The real problem of course is center position and power forward positions where Houston has little to no defense. There aren’t any franchise centers available and fringe guys who could get there in time like DeMarcus Cousins might not be worth the risk. Every time I’ve watched Sacramento play I’ve had to watch around a good 5 minutes combined of Cousins frowning or scowling after every foul. His bad attitude is far from ‘rumored’ at this point and I can see him collect a fat check some day in the future and completely checking out.
Aside from Martin’s generic performance, there were a couple of things to stay positive about. Patrick Patterson has emerged with pride from his time in the D-League. Our third highest scorer tonight in 22 minutes, Patterson only missed one shot. Most (maybe all?) of his shots were deep jump shots that Patrick was not having any trouble dropping. He had 4 rebounds, a block, and just might be a big part of the future of the Houston Rockets. Terrence Williams had extended minutes tonight for the first time and looked to showcase his game. Unfortunately, there were a lot of misses and passes that did not connect the way Terrence wanted them to but overall the 11 point finish was something he can be proud of. Brad Miller was former Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy’s MVP tonight who couldn’t stop complementing him on his passing. Brad was a non factor in the game but he did have 3 great assists. Glad to see him getting some credit for his rare court vision from ESPN. Oh, I almost forgot, our alternate unis also looked pretty good. Score one for the good guys.
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Jordan Hill gets the nod here. His post play on Dwight really wasn’t that horrendous, in fact during the first quarter I think Dwight was getting downright frustrated with him, but his offense looked like he had forgotten everything he learned this season. Not once on his 8 shots did Jordan attempt to post up Dwight. I get it, Dwight Howard is the most dominant center in the league and his defense is second to none but Jordan’s fade away jumpers cannot be excused. He also somehow managed to only get 3 rebounds. If Jordan doesn’t start taking advantage of his time on the court he’s going to be the first “throw in” player Daryl Morey uses to sweeten any already seemingly even trades. I would have thought Courtney Lee would have been more excited to be back in Orlando, but his 0-6 shooting and lackluster job taking the reins on point guard duty proved me wrong. He did rebound well and drew one very important foul that sent Dwight to the bench for most of the second quarter.
Jared Jeffries. I probably don’t have to say much more but this guy took more stupid shots in one game than I think he has all season. If you’re not feeling it and you’re a 2 minutes a game type of player, just stop shooting. Even Jeffries’ critically acclaimed defense looked half assed. If you’re going to be a situational, defensive player you need to learn to stop ruining offensive possessions. Ishmael Smith checked in tonight for the first time in a very long time and I’m starting to see why he’s in Rick Adelman’s dog house. Ish is completely out of control once he gets his feet moving and while his passing instincts are unteachable and valuable, he needs to learn how to turn his speed into an advantage and not a problem. Defense in general also goes under the ugly section. We couldn’t stop penetration and we weren’t guarding Orlando’s shooters. Ryan Anderson, Jason Richardson, and maybe even J.J. Redick had their way with Houston’s perimeter. We’ve got the tools and athleticism to be good out there; I’m not sure why we’ve been so awful. The post defense, without Chuck, is so much worse. I think the word is out on how to beat Houston. Go inside.