I hate Utah.
I’m 22 years old, and Stockton’s 3 is my very first clear memory in my life. While I generally had some interest in basketball throughout my life, I became truly devoted with the Yao-McGrady Rockets – where they repeatedly ran into the one team which frustrated that team that was supposed to lead us to the promised land twice. In my eyes, Utah is evil. Whether it is Kirilenko flops or Malone elbows or Stockton nut shots, even this completely different Jazz team is always the enemy – just as the Cowboys will be the enemy even when Jerry Jones is six feet under.
Of course, no one on this team was around for the last playoff series defeat against Utah, and it shows. Because tonight, even by the standards of the youngest team in the league, was a disaster and an embarrassment.
A loss was hardly surprising. Harden was afflicted with the flu before this game, and while he managed to initially play, it badly affected him. He submitted easily the worst performance of his Rockets career in the first half as he shot 1 for 6 and looked lethargic on both ends of the court. Ultimately, he was forced to rest for the entire second half. And this team without Harden’s scoring and creating just really isn’t that good.
But tonight was a lot worse than that. I can’t help but wonder just exactly how much McHale affected the defensive culture, because our defensive rotations have been terrible under Coach Sampson. 119 against Portland, 119 against the Lakers, and 61 at the half against Utah, a significant change in points compared to the McHale Rockets. The Jazz shot over 50% from the 3 point line up until the point where the game was virtually decided, and make no mistake – these were easy, wide-open shots which they should be expected to make. The Jazz took advantage of their shooting, their passing, and their superior big men to simply overpower Houston and make the Rockets look like fools. While Houston hung around in the 1st quarter, the Jazz went on a 13-0 run to start the second quarter, and Houston did not hit a FG until almost halfway through. While Houston would struggle back and attempt to catch up later, it never truly was a serious contest afterwards. The Jazz coasted, and a struggling Houston offense simply had no real success at closing the gap.
It is of course impossible to discuss offense without mentioning the continuing struggles of Mr. Lin. If there is a positive to take away, Lin is not Rafer Alston, who merrily chucked shot after shot for reasons which I do not believe even Mr. Alston truly understood. But at the same time, he’s lost a lot of confidence in his jumper, hesitating to take wide open shots and then missing badly when he does. Against a team with as many athletic bigs as Utah, range is necessary. And while Lin has many admirable qualities for a point guard, he is not Rondo, nor will he survive in this league with a jumper that is rapidly approaching Rondo levels. If Harden has still not recovered by Wednesday against Chicago, perhaps that game against Nate Robinson will manage to recreate a spark of the old Linsanity. But for now, if the Rockets are committed to making a good team for this season, it will largely rest on what Lin can accomplish. Hopefully then, Lin will be able to show Utah once again what he is truly capable of.
- While he finally made a 3 pointer, Toney Douglas continued to be his frustrating self as usual. What was especially annoying was his problems on D, where he seemed to mistake effort for actual skill and thus got caught out of position to the detriment of the Houston defense. At this point, Morey should continue to seriously search for a better option at backup PG – because should Lin mess any amount of time with an injury (God forbid), I could easily see this team taking a Wizards-style collapse.
- Terrence Jones continued to get major rotation minutes with Delfino injured. Jones does hustle (though realistically, so would most rookies who realized that this was their one chance to get big minutes), but the mechanics on his shot are peculiar – he draws the ball back over his hand before he shoots, which severely delays the release. Jones definitely possesses athleticism to spare, but he was pushed around by the bigger Paul Millsap, a natural problem for a rookie. Over the season and with more playing time, he should improve.