The Rockets once again needed overtime to dispatch a below .500 team. In this case a 16-22 Milwaukee Bucks squad that just lost arguably the best pure shooter in the NBA to a nasty knee injury. This is a disturbing trend, but we did, in the end, notch a win.
The Rockets, shockingly, have completed 3 straight games at home for the first time since November 21st. Contrast that with the LA Lakers who have played 5 and 6 game homestands already, but who will, amusingly, have to play 8 straight on the road starting immediately.
Much has been made of the schedule difficulty, but looking a ahead, the Rockets don't have another game until Friday night in SA. This should bring some well-needed rest and practice time. Then our heroes take I-10 back home for a (tough) six game homestand. (CHI, ATL, DEN, PDX, PHX, GSW). So while we actually get to play at home, and don't register a back to back (home and away, of course, naturally, for how not) until Feb 16 and Feb 20 the home opponents are going to be tough.
Such is life in the NBA, but I think staying home for a spell will be worthwhile. I would, however, like to request a completely average schedule next year in advance, before they all fill up. Or, dare I dream, an LA schedule with its cinnamon-sugared outer layer that allows a team to bank wins whilst their legs are freshest.
So, on to the game.
First off, let me offer my congratulations to Brandon Jennings for evoking memories of Kid'n'Play (though not quite achieving the soaring hair height "Kid" boasted), and bringing back the hightop-fade. Once upon a time (when dinosaurs ruled the earth) this haircut was found in profusion in the NBA and it was good. From Dominque Wilkins to Sam Perkins and many, many, players in between, the hightop fade was a beacon of tonsorial splendor league-wide.
Second, let me offer my congratulations to the Milwaukee Bucks for drafting Jennings. He's silky quick and lightning smooth, with a dangerous 3pt shot. In fact, he's basically Aaron Brooks with better court-vision and passing skills, slightly less speed and a higher draft slot. Jennings often seems to shoot from slightly awkward positions, or without setting up properly, and the ball still appears in danger of going in. Of course, Jennings in the end shot 9-24 but was 4-9 from 3pt range and furnished 7 shiny dimes. He does appear to weigh about 150 lbs, however.
Jennings' teamate, Andrew Bogut, has gone from being a punchline to bigtime big man, with skills on both ends of the court. Milwaukee has a bright future, in my opinion, with solid players in most of the lineup - Jennings/Ridnour, Meeks/Bell (and Redd if he returns well), Mbah-a-Moute/Delfino, Warrick (a very efficient scorer) and Ilyasova and Bogut/Elson/Gadzurik. With a little more development, and one more good pick (PF maybe?) this team could make some noise in the East sooner rather than later.
Speaking of Elson and Gadzurik - what exactly is happening when these guys barely see the floor -ever? Is no one in the NBA looking for a big man? Both (surprise) Dutchmen are not too old, and certainly aren't too expensive. I could see the Rockets finding a productive use for either one.
As for the Rockets - well, its a mixed bag. When the bench hit the game the Milwaukee lead evaporated and scales tipped our way. Budinger showed both his shooting stroke and ability to finish at the rim in what I think is his most complete and confident showing since returning from injury. So naturally the starters (minus Hayes plus Landry) see the floor for the vast bulk of a shaky 4th quarter and an overtime that started with a bang and fizzled to a win. Budinger, who blazed for 12 pts in what seemed like about 5 minutes saw virtually no action in the 2nd half.
Coach Adelman seems to be learning heavily on the starters, and is largely sticking to his rotations, which to me offers a direct conflict with the fluid, ad-hocracy that was the Rockets early this season. The bench is now 9 players deep, with neither Taylor nor Dorsey sniffing any playing time. Its my hope that having this week to (finally!) practice and recharge coach Adelman might see his way to expanding the roles of Dorsey and Taylor.
There are certainly spots when they could be helpful, such as today when the Battle of Australia certainly seemed to go Bogut's way against Andersen, mainly due to Bogut being solidly constructed while Andersen borders on epicene. A little Dorsey might have had a good effect. And there are times when the offense is flat and adding (gasp!) Budinger and Taylor at the same time might create a number of real matchup problems. Their defense might not be great, but the Rocket's D in general hasn't been great lately.
There was a period in the 4th when Milwaukee went to a zone, with everyone working to either deny Landry the ball, or collapse on him as soon as he got it. Now that Landry has gotten a "closer" rep, teams are taking it seriously and are working to take Landry away. Today it mostly worked, in large part because Houston refused to bring in shooters to ring the perimeter and make the Bucks pay for their hyper focus on Landry. Instead we were treated to 15-18 seconds of more-or-less pointless dribbling from Brooks followed by a hasty last-second pass and a shaky 3pt heave from someone, usually Ariza or Battier.
Tonight our savior was Luis Scola who went for 27pts, 15 rebounds, 3 assists and a steal. Honestly, he should have scored 35, as he, shockingly, missed about 3-5 open 6foot looks right at the basket on feeds from Brooks and Lowry. Scola did not say in an interview "I really wanted to prove the superiority of my hair to that of Brandon Jennings. He may think his haircut cool and retro but if the concept of Badassery could be distilled into a hair style, it would be MY haircut. I think my performance today proves my case."
Additional credit goes to Battier, who clamped down on D in the late 4th and overtime in classic Batt-man fashion.
All in all, we won. That's good, but the outlook remains partly cloudy.
Today was part of a league-wide Martin Luther King appreciation effort, with a full slate of games running all day and most of the night. I think that's a great thing to do, and some of the player interviews aired over the PA were poignant. Fantasia from American Idol performed at halftime for some reason, I guess it was to celebrate MLK day. I'd like to believe that bringing in one of Houston's many fine gospel artists to sing triumphal spirituals associated with Dr. King and the movement he lead would have brought down the house and been very much in keeping with the day. There's a deep cognitive disconnect between the serious purpose and tragedy of MLK and the pre-packaged fluff of American Idol.
Fantasia was everything I thought she would be.