Pocket Rocket – January 10-16, 2012

The number of the week is 13. That was how many minutes Chase Budinger saw in the overtime loss to the Spurs. He was invisible, going scoreless and only grabbing four rebounds.

The Rockets continue to stay reliable at the line, going 61/75 (81.3%) in the past four games. Highlighted by Kevin Martin’s 12/13 display against Portland, the Rockets will always be a threat for as long as they do not settle for contested jumpers.

For one week, at least, the Rockets could exhale and breathe a sigh of relief. Their last four opponents failed to capitalize on open three point looks, going for a combined 19/75 (25.3%).

Stat of the week: Kyle Lowry – 33 points, 8 rebounds (2 on the offensive end), 9 assists

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Houston Rockets @ Washington Wizards – January 16, 2012 1:00PM

The gist: The Rockets visit the hapless Wizards at the Verizon Center. At 1-11, the Wizards are losers of all six road games and most recently dropped a home-and-home to the Sixers.

Key matchup: Chase Budinger vs Chris Singleton

After a string of up and down games, Budinger made noise in their overtime win against Portland, scoring 16 points in the first two quarters to finish with 18. His matchup against Singleton is a distinct advantage if he realizes it from tipoff and makes use of that edge for 48 minutes.

X-factor: Samuel Dalembert

The Haitian Sensation needs to push JaVale McGee out of the basket area and if is unable to do so, would be wise to fouling him, as the latter is 45% from the stripe. Dalembert will have to produce more than the usual boards and provide guys like Lowry and Dragic the screens necessary for them to penetrate to the rim.

Code Red: Andray Blatche (sore right shoulder) and Ronny Turiaf (broken left hand) will be no-shows in this afternoon’s matchup.

 

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Rapid Reaction: Houston Rockets 107 Portland Trailblazers 105 (OT)

Portland Trail Blazers105FinalRecap | Box Score107Houston Rockets
Luis Scola, PF 32 MIN | 3-7 FG | 0-0 FT | 10 REB | 2 AST | 6 PTS | +12He finished with 10 rebounds, but was neither looking for nor finding his shot all game. The rebounds are a welcome, and needed, addition to his game, though.
Samuel Dalembert, C 27 MIN | 2-5 FG | 2-2 FT | 12 REB | 2 AST | 6 PTS | +3Dalembert didn’t put up 21 and 16 tonight, but his 12 rebounds, consistent defense, and clutch overtime post-up bucket delivered exactly what the Rockets had hoped for when the team signed giant Haitian.
Kevin Martin, SG 49 MIN | 8-22 FG | 12-13 FT | 3 REB | 3 AST | 28 PTS | -1The foul he drew on Batum in overtime said it all. Kevin Martin was aggressive all game, earning in a single game a third the number of free throw attempts he’s managed all year. If he can keep this up, the Rockets back court will indeed be as formidable as we all expected it to be.
Kyle Lowry, PG 49 MIN | 13-26 FG | 4-5 FT | 8 REB | 9 AST | 33 PTS | +11Through the first three quarters, Lowry put up 30 points on 12 for 15 shooting, 7 assists, and 3 rebounds. After the one minute mark of the 4th and through overtime, he went 1 for 11 for 3 points and two assists, further proof that basketball is a team sport, Lowry is a monster, and that he could use a little help now and again.
Chase Budinger, SF 39 MIN | 7-16 FG | 2-2 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 18 PTS | 0Budinger only scored 2 points after halftime, but the 16 he scored in the first two quarters sure were nice. If he can learn to be more consistently aggressive, he could be a genuine offensive force. (also, we’ve known this for a while now. come on, Chase. bring it like we know you can.)

Three Things We Saw

  1. Very exciting game. A good win against a formidable opponent, one which red94’s Jacob Mustafa predicted to win the West. The defense still is giving up open look after open look, but this time the Rockets hit more of theirs than LaMarcus Aldridge did of his. Houston continues its home court success.
  2. Is it me or has Kevin Martin increased his defensive intensity/hustle this season? I haven’t yet collected any stats to back this up, but more and more I feel like I notice him chasing down loose balls, jumping into passing lanes for steals, and just generally looking like he’s trying a lot. Maybe I’m wrong, but I hope I’m not. (Somebody look this up on the internet.)
  3. Batum finishes with with 29 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 blocks, on 6-7 from beyond the arc. If I’m not mistaken didn’t the Rockets draft Batum and then trade him for Donte Greene and Joey Dorsey? The team did flip Greene for Meta World Peace based on a single summer league game, but wouldn’t you rather have Batum now than any of those guys, none of whom are currently on the Rockets’ roster? (I guess we kind of “traded” Ron Ron for Ariza who in turn was turned into Coutney Lee. No offense to Lee, but if I were the GM, which I clearly am not, I’d trade Lee for Batum yesterday, even throw in Budinger, too.)

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Houston Rockets vs Portland Trail Blazers – January 14, 2012 7:00PM

The gist: The Rockets ended DeMarcus Cousins’ double-double streak with a 103-89 win behind Sam Dalembert’s 21-16 explosion and another near triple-double from Kyle Lowry. The Blazers look to bounce back after dropping a 99-83 decision to the Spurs on the road.

Key matchup: Kyle Lowry vs Raymond Felton

While Lowry has been overachieving, Felton has been disappointing with his stats dropping across the board. It will be an opportunity to see if the law of averages come into play here.

X-factor: Jordan Hill

Could the young one be a reliable post presence against Kurt Thomas, the oldest player in the league?

Code Red: Portland’s depth will tip the scales. Houston’s starters will not go off for 91 points every night like they did against the Kings. The bench firepower has to come in to keep up with Nicolas Batum and Jamal Crawford.

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Huq’s Pen: On attendance and other matters

So the Rockets beat up on the worst team in the Western Conference last night to improve their record to a stellar 4-7.  They rode big nights from 30-somethings Luis Scola and Samuel Dalembert to the win.  Were it not for Kyle Lowry and Chandler Parsons, I’d be pulling my hair out right now.  Seriously, what is the point of this?

No ‘young player’, other than the two aforementioned, contributed anything of note.  Last night was a continuation of the season’s norm and affirmation of my greatest fear.  The Rockets once again beat up on a terrible team after losing to a good one and did it through the play of their vets.

Some argue that if the team is out of it by the deadline, they can simply trade off Martin/Scola/Dalembert and cash in at that time.  As the argument goes, why mail it in so early when there’s nothing to lose?  What’s overlooked is that by that point, if this current trend continues, the team will have already sufficiently destroyed its draft standing.  The opportunity cost of winning is not the trade value of the vets; it is the lottery position.

This team is not as bad as the one that took the floor at Staples Center on successive nights.  They will get better and eventually make a run, finding themselves at .500.  But I think most can agree that this team is not a contender.  Why not sacrifice a shortened season to acquire the currency they need?

As I took my seat at Toyota Center last night, I almost wondered if the start time had been pushed back.  Half the seats were empty on this Friday night.  I later learned in the postgame notes that only 12,000 people were in attendance.  It begs the obvious.

If the objection to tanking is a fear of losing fan interest….well, that ship has already sailed.  People aren’t going to suddenly stop coming just because the team traded Luis Scola or Kevin Martin.  They’ve already stopped coming and they already don’t care.  It really can’t get any worse than this.

There would be no better time to cash in than while no one is even paying attention.  I don’t buy the platitudes about “losing culture” or embittering fans in coming seasons.  That stuff’s made up.  The casual fan–the demographic in question–isn’t viewing the team at some greater macro-philosophical level thinking, “oh my god, well the team sold off its best players in 2012, so that’s indicative of a defeatist mentality so I’ll hold this vendetta now and stop coming.”  That’s nonsense.  Nothing rejuvenates a fanbase more than a hotshot rookie.  You’re telling me if the team landed someone like Kyrie Irving or Ricky Rubio (a #5 pick), people wouldn’t fill the stands?  The casual sports fan just wants to be entertained.  The casual sports fan just got off work and wants some escapist delight with his kids; he’s not thinking about management and holding grudges.  And the die-hards and club suites remain constant regardless.

Those who don’t take heed of the dangers of winning meaningless games in a lost season should look to history.  Were it not for a pointless win in Denver, on the backs of season-best performances by David Wesley and Juwan Howard, back in 2005, the Rockets would have landed Brandon Roy–their real target–in the 2006 draft.  Roy is now gone, but had he been a Rocket, I’m sure most here agree the Yao-McGrady era would have had some second round appearances to its credit.  You have to know when to cut your losses and look ahead.

**

Kyle Lowry is playing like the best pure point guard in basketball right now.  He hit some 3′s from near midcourt last night and threaded a pass late in the 4th that left me in amazement.  The Brooks-Lowry debate of yesteryear just seems silly now.  It’s comforting that at atleast one position, the Rockets are set with a building block for the next some-odd years.  At just $5.75million–roughly $600,000 more than Hasheem Thabeet–Lowry owns the best contract in basketball.  I would go so far as to say that outside of a trade for the very elite–James, Durant, Howard, etc.–there isn’t a deal in basketball for which I would include Lowry in a package.  Given the injury histories and respective salaries, would you trade Lowry for Williams or Paul?  That’s an interesting question.

Manu Ginobili’s injury and the extreme nature of Lowry’s performance make way for a very realistic chance for an all-star bid.  If he were averaging something like 7 assists and 4 boards he’d get a pat on the back as an improved player and pushed gently aside.  But the man is at 9 assists per game, leading all guards in rebounding with 1/6 of the season in the books!  If his team were any good, he’d be a lock.  Kobe and Chris Paul are virtual guarantees at the starter, but after that, you can’t find a better guard out West having a better year than Lowry.  Let’s hope the coaches see that too.

Speaking of sunk cost, what in the world were the Grizzlies thinking choosing Mike Conley over Kyle?  The whispers at the time were that while Memphis knew Lowry was the superior player, because they had already invested the #4 pick in the struggling Conley, they couldn’t face cutting the cord and admitting a mistake.  This shows that sometimes its best to be humble and move on when wrong.

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