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Monday, November 13, 2006

Four in a Row for the Rockets

Don't look now, but the Rockets are already showing signs of being a dominant force in the Western Conference, winning their fourth straight last night, 94-72 in Miami. The Rockets trailed by three at the break, but outscored the Heat 55-30 in the second half to convert a nailbiter into a laugher. Offensively, Yao imposed his will on the Heat from areas inside and outside the lane and Luther Head made a trio of clutch three-pointers in the fourth quarter. The win was somewhat dampened by an ugly injury to Chuck Hayes' left knee, which was hyperextended in a collision with Shaq. Losing Hayes for a significant period of time would be a considerable setback for the Rockets, as Hayes' defense, rebounding and unselfish play has proven a perfect fit early in the season at the starting four position.

As impressive as the Rockets have been, the same cannot be said for the Heat, who look old and inflexible aside, of course, from D-Wade. Antoine Walker and James Posey are streaky three-point shooters, and last night they were ice cold, combining to go make just two of ten tries from behind the arc. This allowed the Rockets to slough off of those perimeter guys to help on Shaq and D-Wade.

A few other assorted notes from the game:

- T-Mac's shot is still way off, and the reasons are easily detectable when watching his shot in slow motion (thanks to DVR). He is squaring up neither his shoulders nor his feet to the target, and he is releasing the ball after he reaches the peak of his jump, which is hindering the arc that he puts on his shot. The good news is that these problems should be rather easily correctable and that Yao's dominance underneath is enough to carry the team while T-Mac works things out. Further good news is that Tracy played a beautiful floor game last night, distributing a game-high eight assists and making only two turnovers.

- Rafer Alston is still not my favorite point guard, but last night he made a couple of three-pointers and played hard-nosed defense on the endlessly annoying Gary Payton. One confrontation in front of the Heat bench resulted in a ridiculous double-techinical call and a finger-pointing/trash talking session by the even-more-annoying Pat Riley (my least favorite Kentucky Wildcat of all time), a confrontation in which all that Rafer did was play physical defense up until the whistle was blown, which apparently is something that neither PG nor Riley appreciated very much. It was quite evident that these two teams do not share a mutual love for each other, which made the game quite entertaining and the win all the sweeter.

- Some interesting notes from my favorite site: 82games.com:
- While Yao is on the floor, the Rockets are averaging a +14 point differential per 48 minutes.
- Shane Battier and Chuck Hayes, each of whom is becoming legendary for his efficient play on both sides of the floor, are each undefeated this season through seven games in terms of plus/minus per game. In other words, in each game so far this season that each of Battier and Hayes have played, the Rockets outscored their opponents while each of Battier and Hayes was in the game. Hayes leads the team with a +17.8 per game point differential. Steve Novak, who has seen relatively limited time thus far, is at -23.9.
- The Rockets' best quintent in terms of win% is their recent starting (and finishing) five: Alston, McGrady, Battier, Hayes and Yao. That fivesome has outscored its opponents in five of the six games they have participated in together and has outscored their opponents by 45 points.
- T-Mac's struggles from the perimeter have been highlighted by the fact that 83% of his shots have been from the perimeter and 69% of his shots have come in the first 15 seconds of the shot clock, which implies to yours truly that he is taking a lot of long shots early in the shot clock, so that not only are they not going in the basket, but they are not necessarily resulting from the flow of the half-court offense.


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