OK, I know they were missing their top two players (but we were missing two also) and I know this game didn't mean much in the long run and maybe would have been better to lose if you believe in lottery stuff...but I'm grinning ear to ear anyway. Why? Because winning is FUN!
Rockets 78 Blazers 85
--First and foremost, this was a chippy, hard-fought game. Both teams looked like they really wanted it. Both teams were fighting hard. This was not a "play out the string" kind of contest. The Rockets got pretty physical with us and we got pretty physical back, which is a component we've been missing for a long time. This wasn't a brain win or heart win as much as a gut win, and gut wins are a very good sign.
--I thought I was flashing back to '91 for a little while there with our two starting guards clicking on all cylinders like that. A lot of the credit for this game goes to Roy and Jack. They were both fantastic...aggressive, passionate, fairly smart. Their multi-purpose skill sets also made it hard for the Rockets to key on them. They were driving, shooting, passing, the whole works. An important stat: between the two of them Roy and Jack only had four turnovers. Some nights each has that. I'm not saying they're Porter and Drexler, but I am saying we haven't seen that kind of potential for great guard play in a tandem since Porter and Drexler. If they could ever develop to the point where that happens every night...whooo! Look out! One would hope this could be a coming out party of sorts.
--The starting frontcourt also did us fairly proud. Jamaal deserves about three gold stars for this game. More on him in a minute. Ime and Raef didn't exactly light up the boxscore but they were in the right place at the right time on defense more than once. Talk about exceeding expectations...this trio certainly looked far better on the court than they do on paper.
--The bench tonight was not so good. Houston made their runs mostly with our second unit in. This is where the injuries hurt. The first unit played marvelously and cohesively but there just weren't enough horses in the corral when they got tired.
--Once again we got pounded on the offensive boards but once again that was the ONLY stat we got pounded on. Shooting: 44% to 38% us. Three point shooting: 54% to 22% us. Free throws attempted: 24-21 us. Defensive rebounds: tied at 29. Assists: 13 to 12 us. Blocks: 5 to 2 us. Steals: 5 to 2 us. Turnovers: 10 to 12 us. For the most part I'll give up that offensive board deficit if I can get the rest of that every night. For most of the year it's been the opposite: we're an excellent offensive rebounding team that gets beaten everywhere else. Offensive rebounds are nice but they're just not that important.
--Our defense was active from the tip. All five guys on the floor were into it for the starting unit, including and especially Jamaal! I loved seeing that defensive effort! A couple of guys from the second unit were still saddling up at the Lazy D Ranch but overall this was one of our better efforts in a while.
--Let's start with Jarrett tonight, just for the heck of it. The guy scored 23 points on 9 shots. You LOVE to see that! It means he's firing accurately and getting to the line. He was 6-8 from the
three point free throw line. I love the aggressive Jarrett! You know you're going to get something from Roy but when Jack is on too you actually have a chance. He's a difference-maker. Now he just needs to keep walking, talking, and playing like he's a difference-maker.
--Brandon...what can you say? They ran everything and the kitchen sink at him again. He still shot 50%, scored 24, and opened up a lot of easy opportunities for other guys. You just get astounded by the maturity of his game as a rookie. And the great thing is, he wasn't perfect tonight by any stretch of the imagination. He had some questionable shots and a couple breakdowns. But his game was still EXCELLENT. This is just his game! His normal game is FANTASTIC! You gotta love that.
--I don't care what you've said about him previously and whether it was deserved or not. Tonight everybody needs to get up on their feet and give it up for Jamaal. He had 14 rebounds when nobody else but Raef was getting any (14 doubles the next leading rebounder on the team) and scored 12 on some mean inside shots when nobody else could get in the post either. Even more impressively he set the tone for physicality. Mutumbo and company were starting to push us around and he said, "Enough of THAT!" He dunked over `Deke, hung there, and woofed at him. He shoved Shane Battier flat on the floor after Battier fouled him hard. ("You wanna see hard? HERE!") The ref didn't even call the push back because he knew Shane had come at him first. He was a good stopper inside, rotated great on defense...you could not have asked for a better game from Jamaal and I don't think we've seen one. No Jamaal, no win tonight. It's just as simple as that.
--Ime and Raef, as I mentioned above, showed pretty big tonight all things considered. Raef got 7 rebounds and 3 blocks and played some active defense. Ime's shot was off but he set the tone early with some hustle steals. Could we live with them starting for 82 games? Maybe not. But tonight they gave what we needed and stayed out of the way otherwise. You have to love guys who don't need the ball to be effective.
--I guess Outlaw was the main guy off the bench if there was one. He did score 9 (by far the second unit high) and got a couple of blocks and a steal. But he still wasn't passing tonight and I wasn't in love with his shot selection. He did hit a big one from the top of the key off a Brandon pass to help seal the game. You have to give him that. But most of the night, to me anyway, he just looked a little whacked. Here's an NBA reality check for ya: if you're going to make your living shooting the ball every time you touch it, fine...but you're going to be judged on how well you shoot then, and you'll be judged harshly. There's no middle ground if that's your game, you either hit it or you missed. No excuses. You want to pass, create for others, rotate on defense and such then we can talk, but otherwise it's pretty black and white. Tonight he only hit 3 of 8 and they didn't look all that good.
--Sergio shot 2-5 and got 5 points which was the second highest point total from the bench group. He also had 2 assists in 16 minutes but he also had 2 turnovers. He probably would have had a couple more assists if the bench shooters had been connecting on open shots. Still, I'm trying to remember how long it's been since I really saw the offense run smoothly through Sergio. I know it's been a while.
--Fred Jones looked pretty active tonight but only shot 1-5. Martell had another one of those "don't ask" games and never saw minutes in the second half. I wonder if we shouldn't be setting him up for more 16-18 foot jump shots instead of having him bomb threes or making him drive off the dribble. Most teams will give you a mid-range jumper and they should be like candy for him. Right now though, if your game is shooting and you can't shoot that's bad news.
--The starting lineups tonight included Dikembe Mutumbo, Juwon Howard, Jamaal Magloire, and Raef LaFrentz. That would have been a pretty strong lineup circa 2001.
--Luke Schenscher busted my TV with his jumper. Then I got the thing working again and Rafer Alston's shot came off the rim so hard it punched a hole in my wall. Next time I'm wearing a helmet.
--It's nice to see Bonzi Wells is still heading firmly towards getting his number retired. Not hung in the rafters, mind you...just retired.