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Week 3: Rockets Weekly Wrap-Up

By Dennis L. Silva, II.

For the third installment of the Rockets Weekly Wrap-Up, don’t expect a whole lot of anything new. The Rockets put forth an 0-4 standing last week, losing to Dallas, Phoenix, Memphis, and Chicago. It’s the “same ol’, same ol’” when it comes to Houston. They play solid, consistent defense, and play sporadically on offense. As the overall season record stands at 3-11, injuries have been the downfall of the Rockets. Tracy McGrady has missed eight games, Rafer Alston has missed six games, and, as of Friday against Memphis, guard Jon Barry has a left foot injury. Considering that the concept behind this team has been to put parts around McGrady and Yao Ming, it doesn’t help your cause when half of that base is M.I.A. Despite strong play from Luther Head, Moochie Norris, and Stromile Swift, the Rockets still lack a go-to force in crunch time, as Yao has proved that he is not yet ready (or willing) to accept such responsibility.

Offense: The Rockets averaged 88 points per game in the four contests last week, opposed to their season average of 85 points per. Houston shot only 41% in those four games, but did accumulate a standout percentage of 43% from downtown. However, despite what the stats say, the problem for the Rockets has not been shooting. Slowly but surely players are starting to find their shooting touch after an abysmal start to the season. The problem is the lack of shots. The Rockets averaged a mere 71 field goal attempts during those four games, and on the season, opponents have attempted 77 more shots. The cause of such poor shot production is turnovers and reluctance on the offensive end. Houston is averaging almost 15 giveaways per game. Rockets players are not aggressive with their play on offense, and it seems the only player willing to take a big shot is Luther Head. Other than that, players are standing around, willing to play the “wait and see” game as to whether Yao will bail them out on offense. Two Rockets in particular have been solid contributors offensively due to their aggressiveness and energy. Head has shot 15-29 from 3-point range and averaged 16 points during the last four contests, while Swift has compiled 9.8 points and 5.7 rebounds in his last six games.

Another positive from the Rockets has been the play of little-used guard Moochie Norris. Norris has done a fine job of running the offense and controlling the tempo of games, and has quickly become a favorite of Jeff Van Gundy’s. Norris has accumulated seven assists during his 7.6 minutes per game this season, and has only turned the ball over once. Van Gundy often inserts the 6’1” guard into the lineup whenever he feels that his offense has been in disarray and needs a steady hand.

Other than those select few, no other Rockets are playing outstandingly well on offense. Derek Anderson is averaging 11 points per contest, but only shooting at a 39% clip. Juwan Howard’s production has fallen off considerably, as he is only shooting 40% on the season, which is inexcusable for a 6’9” post. Yao is averaging 18.9 points per but only at a 47% clip, easily the lowest of his four-year career.

Defense: The Rockets’ defense allowed 95.5 points during the four games last week, which is solid but nowhere near the early standard they had set early in the season. However, it seemed that their defensive intensity has become fatigued and strained due to spending most of each and every game on that side of the court. The Rockets allowed last week’s four foes to shoot 45% from the field (compared to just 41% during the season) and 42% from 3-point range (opposed to just 32% before). The Rockets’ biggest concerns on defense are guard penetration and defending the pick-and-roll. Shane Battier was able to chop and slice their defense in the game against Memphis due to the pick-and-roll play as he was uncontested on an assortment of jumpers late in the game that secured the victory for the Grizzlies. Steve Nash was able to slice through the Rockets’ defense for 14 assists in their game against Phoenix, and Kirk Hinrich (8 assists) and Ben Gordon were able to expose the weak midrange defense of the Rockets to hold off a late Rockets rally in the contest against the Bulls. So what provokes such poor defense? First off is the fact that the Rockets have aging, slow players at the main guard slots. David Wesley and Derek Anderson are averaging a combined 5.5 fouls between them and are having to resort to a lot of reaching and grabbing, instead of playing defense with their feet. Therefore, it becomes a chain reaction, as when you allow guards to penetrate, you then put your big men in jeopardy of getting unnecessary fouls, which has been the case with the Rockets. Both Yao and Swift average a combined 8 fouls, limiting their production and rhythm on the floor. A problem such as this may not be solved until Alston (who has been out due to a right leg fracture) and McGrady (back strain) come back from injury and are able to restrict dribble penetration. Until then, no answer is apparent for the Rockets at this juncture.

The Rockets have a far more lenient schedule in the upcoming week than what has been the case this season. Within the next week, the Rockets will play Atlanta, Memphis, and Boston (all at home) as they will be allowed a significant dose of rest and healing due to the brutality of the early part of their scheduling. McGrady is said to be ready to compete Tuesday against Atlanta, and Alston is said to be back in the next week or so, so that is some good news to the ears (or in this case, eyes) of Rockets fans.
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