rockets playoff watch: march 24th

The 4 games the Rockets were interested in yesterday went 2-2 so it can be considered an okay night. Fortunately, one of the results going in our favor was a home victory over the Golden State Warriors. Unfortunately, the Grizzlies’ game was one result that went against us, as Memphis managed to pull off an improbably upset in Boston. Let’s take a look at the games one by one.

Memphis played a tight game against Boston that, I believe, didn’t go more than 3 points in any team’s favor in the 4th quarter. The Celtics were playing from behind for most of the way. Going into the last minute, down by three points after a missed shot from the Grizzlies, Rondo ran the break and, instead of looking for a good shot, tried to finish a tough teardrop to cut the lead to 1. He failed and the Grizzlies had to foul. Marc Gasol managed to miss both free throws (just a day after his brother, Pau, made to clutch free throws to send the game into 3OT) but the Celtics were unable to convert on the other end with about 4 seconds left on the clock. Boston, as a result, fell a game behind Chicago in the Eastern Conference standings. These losses could be crucial for Boston since they will be the difference between playing Orlando and Miami in the second-round.

Next up, we had Utah in Oklahoma City. Thankfully, the Jazz were working with a depleted roster with neither Favors or Harris active and fell to the Thunder by 12 points. That loss pushes the Jazz to a .500 record and they can probably write off their playoff hopes now unless the rest of the teams competing for a spot in the Western Conference severely implode. The Jazz shouldn’t mind missing out on the playoffs too much as they have gone through wholesale changes during this season.

The Rockets took on the Warriors at the Toyota Center next and it was the exciting, high-scoring affair that was expected. Well, exciting if you are a Rockets fan, which I am. The first quarter was pretty close, with the Warriors pulling up to 57-57 at one stage, before a 9-0 run gave the Rockets a bit of a cushion going into the halftime break. The Rockets came back in the second half and totally took care of business, with Chuck Hayes recording his first career triple-double. Most of the Warriors starters sat out most of the fourth quarter as Houston pulled out an easy win 131-112, including their highest scoring output this season. Interestingly, new signees Mike Harris and Demarr Carroll got minutes yesterday, but Terrence Williams continued his accommodation at the RADHisson (that’s the Rick Adelman Dog House).

The last game of the night was Phoenix hosting the lowly Toronto Raptors. The Suns, of course, were playing on the second night of a back-to-back after their close 3OT loss in LA on Tuesday night. Their tiredness showed as they were trailing most of the way, but Aaron Brooks came off the bench fresh (he was suspended for the previous game) and drained 25 points en route to a comeback win. The win keeps the Suns hovering around that last spot.

Updated Standings

1. San Antonio Spurs
2. Los Angeles Lakers
3. Dallas Mavericks
4. Oklahoma City Thunder
5. Denver Nuggets
— already/probably qualified —
6. Portland Trailblazers
7. New Orleans Hornets (+1)
8. Memphis Grizzlies (+0.5)
9. Houston Rockets (+2)
10. Phoenix Suns (+1)
11. Utah Jazz (+1)

Today’s Games

New Orleans Hornets (40-31) @ Utah Jazz (36-36)

The Hornets should have all but locked up a playoff spot this season, but the fact of the matter is that they are still just half a game ahead of the Grizzlies and 2.5 games ahead of the Rockets with about 10-11 games remaining for all the teams competing for a spot. A win for Utah would be nice here, but the last time we wanted them to do that they went and got blown out by the Grizzlies. Nevertheless, the Jazz are back at the Energy Solutions Arena and their motivation is that a loss here will almost certainly eliminate them from the playoffs (with the 8th seed mark speculated to be 45-37). Let’s hope Harris and Favors are back today and put a pounding on the Hornets.

Other Notes

The Nuggets continued to show how awesome they have become in the post-Carmelo era by taking care of the league’s best team, minus one Tim Duncan. The Spurs were off to a hot start again, opening a double-digit lead against the Nuggets in Denver, before the home team fought back through Al Harrington, of all people. It seemed like the Spurs were reduced to mainly a jump-shooting team and were beaten at their own game (three-pointers) by a sharpshooting Nuggets offense. Even with Arron Afflalo, their self-elected closer of late, injured the Nuggets were able to pull out a 3-point victory. I’ll be keeping an eye on the Spurs the rest of the season. If they continue to struggle without Duncan, perhaps a first-round date with them wouldn’t be entirely catastrophic for whoever the the 8th seed is.

time to build a run

The four new Rockets have now been dressed for two games, and half of them have seen playing time. Kevin Martin came off the bench in both our losses whereas Jeffries had his debut in the ketchup-mustard alternate today, against the Hornets. So far, the signs have been encouraging, but unfortunately the “W” has been in the wrong column for the Rockets, on both days.

Yesterday’s loss to Indiana stung particularly hard, especially since these are the teams that the Rockets have to beat to make it to the playoffs. Indiana is currently the second-worst team in the Eastern conference, and considering that the worst team are the lowly New Jersey Nets (who will probably end the season with a single figured number of wins), this was a harsh loss. What was worse was that the Rockets lost despite scoring 115 points. I think Indiana average in the mid-90s this year, but yesterday they put 125 on us.

Kevin Martin came off the bench and Ariza moved to the small forward position, as expected. He had a particularly nondescript shooting night, scoring 14 points going 3-16 from the field. Today wasn’t much better, as he went 5-12 against the Hornets. He’s yet to hit a three pointer in a Rockets uniform, too. However, he seems to be getting into the rhythm, especially late in the game today. It’ll be up to Adelman and his staff to get these new additions to get into the system asap. The Rockets commentators suggested that this may take as many as 10-15 games. Unfortunately, with 27 games remaining in our season as of now, that may be a bit too many.

Jared Jeffries played his first minutes today and he was pretty impressive, especially on defense. The 6’11” length that he brings us is definitely going to help us. The Rockets are already a pretty good offensive rebounding team, from what I remember, and if Jeffries can repeat performances like today’s, where he grabbed 6 offensive boards, we’ll be in good shape. Jeffries did miss a couple of easy lay-ups and for some reason he abhors the dunk. Late in the fourth quarter, Jeffries took drop in lay-ups with no one at the rim instead of flushing it down. Perhaps he’s just playing it a bit easy until he gets comfortable with his team and the coaching staff.

Jordan Hill and Hilton Armstrong are yet to see minutes. It’ll be interesting to see how many opportunities they will get to earn a spot in the rotation, going late into the season.

Our schedule next week is rough–we play Orlando, who dealt the Cavs their third straight loss today, on Wednesday, followed by back-to-back games against San Antonio and Utah on Friday and Saturday. So if we think it’s going to get easier for our new players to adjust, we’ve got another thing coming! Let’s see if Kevin Martin and JJ can prove that they are a proper replacement to Landry (who had 18 points in the Kings’ loss to the Suns tonight).

One more off-topic point. I saw T-Mac play yesterday for the Knicks against the extremely hot Oklahoma Thunder and he certainly impressed. Now, one game is not enough to judge anyone, but I think one can safely conclude that no one expected McGrady to put these sorts of numbers up any game this season, let alone the first one. He had 19 points at the first half, and what was particularly encouraging for him was the fact that most of these points came from layups. As usual, though, he missed a pair of clutch free throws that could’ve earned him his first Knicks victory, allowing KD to tie up the game with a deep three and beat the Knicks in OT. T-Mac’s performance was impressive, and he is a player I will follow closely this season (I already added the Knicks to my League Pass). Let’s see if he has the legs and conditioning to come back and play his best basketball night after night.

the new rockets

Well, the draft deadline has officially passed and contingent on a few physicals, it seems like the dust has settled for the new Rockets team. Honestly speaking, and after thinking over it for a while, seems like we’ve come out on top. The only current piece that we traded away from our line-up was Landry. Landry was probably our best player this season but he was not the kind of dominating player that could take us to the playoffs. He did play really well in Adelman’s offense, though, and is in the middle of his break-out year. For his sake, I hope going to Sacramento doesn’t effectively end his career.

Let’s look at the trades:

Houston get: Kevin Martin (SAC), Hilton Armstrong (SAC), Jared Jeffries (NYK) and Jordan Hill (NYK)
Sacramento get: Carl Landry (HOU), Joey Dorsey (HOU), Larry Hughes (NYK)
New York get: Tracy McGrady (HOU), Sergio Rodriguez (SAC)

Kevin Martin was definitely a big pickup and if he starts, as expected, it’ll add some offense to our starting line-up that has been struggling as Ariza has lost his touch. The worrying factor, though, is the pick up of the contracts, which pretty much douses our free agency hopes. Not that we were planning to go for a big name, anyway, but this more or less gets rid of that potential drama. Both Jeffries and Hill have non-expiring contracts, a combined $10m next year. Martin adds another $9m-ish to the spectrum, an estimate based on the fact that he earns $8.7m this year. Armstrong earned $2m this year… and I’m not sure what his contract looks like, either. But all-in-all, it appears that we picked up all the non-expiring contracts. This adds up to about $21m, approximately equivalent to the amount T-Mac earns this year ($23m). So we did dump T-Mac, but we ended up picking approximately the same in contracts. We will also have to make a decision on Scola and Lowry… so with all these contracts, it doesn’t look like we’ll have a lot of space to pull a free agent in.

From an actual basketball point of view, this may be a good thing. The starting line-up will probably be Brooks and Martin as the guards, Ariza and Scola as the forwards and Hayes at center. David Anderson will have to share his minutes with Hilton and Jordan Hill and Jared Jeffries will probably end up sharing Landry’s minutes. When Lowry comes back are rotation will end up being pretty long, especially with Budinger performing well of the bench this season. I suspect this isn’t as much of a problem, but it doesn’t look like we’ll be playing any of these guys except for Martin for a lot of minutes, unless they show themselves to be spectacular.

All in all, I’d say I’m pretty pleased about how things worked out. Definitely better than the 2-team trade with Sacramento which was trading Dorsey, Landry and T-Mac for Martin, Armstrong, Sergio Rodriguez and Kenny Thomas. That seemed to bring in a lot of pieces that we did not need.

Let’s see how quickly these guys can get into Adelman’s offense!