Happy 2010, New Orleans. Here, as a precursor to our forthcoming Chris Paul negotiations, go ahead and win tonight's game, why don'tcha?
If only that were the case. Perhaps the loss would not have been as gut-wrenching.
The Hornets closed out the fourth quarter on a 13-2 run to stun Houston, who had otherwise played well with fourth quarter leads coming into the game. Poor offensive execution down the stretch doomed the Rockets, as they failed to find anything remotely resembling an open shot.
If anything, it further illuminated the difference between featuring Chris Paul and Aaron Brooks at point guard. With about 24 seconds remaning, Paul was able to wind the shot clock down, get into the lane against Brooks, and make an easy jumper as the shot clock expired. How did Brooks answer? He forced up a contested, fadeaway three-pointer that clanked off the rim, instead of using the nineteen seconds that remained to set up a final shot that actually had a chance of going in.
Until tonight, the Rockets had rarely been forced to rely on Brooks late in games, instead deferring to Carl Landry, who is currently second in the league in fourth-quarter PPG. However, that option quickly evaporated as Emeka Okafor forced Landry into either a bad shot or a pass to the perimeter each time he got the ball on the block. If there is one defender who keeps Carl up at night, it's Okafor. He's quick enough to cut Carl off when he tries a reverse layup, and he is long enough to either block Carl's shot or alter it. It's one of those matchups that the Rockets won't win.
The most telling statistic of Landry's night is his number of free throw attempts: zero. It's only the third time all season that Carl hasn't made it to the stripe once.
Though Trevor Ariza (19 points on 7-14 FG) managed to somewhat snap his current shooting slump, he turned the ball over seven times, many of which were on forced passes or on fourth-grade dribbling moves. I'm still shocked to see how poorly he handles the ball. He must not have been forced to dribble in junior high or high school. Maybe he just stood under the basket and dunked when the ball came to him. Otherwise, I don't know how he skipped over one of the easiest elements of the game during his development. I would blame it on his length, but then Kevin Durant would laugh in my face. Actually, wouldn't that really be an accomplishment of sorts, on my part?
(Note: Just discovered that the Hoop Data boxscores were posted early tonight - nice! Let's take a look at those shot locations that I love so much...)
Interestingly enough, the Rockets shot efficiently at the rim and from three, and forced the Hornets to do the exact opposite. Normally, that would be a good thing for the Rockets - it's a big reason why they've won so many games thus far. They made 18 of 22 shots at the rim, and shot 8 of 20 from three. As for the Hornets, they shot 14-22 from at the rim, and only 3-14 from three. So, then, how did we manage to lose?
Leave it to the most inefficient shot in basketball to doom the Rockets: the mid-range jumper. New Orleans made 15 mid-range jump shots, compared to the Rockets' six. Again, this is something that would normally be a good thing, but when you factor in our sixteen turnovers, Landry's ineffectiveness, and our mere eight offensive rebounds (compared to the Hornets' ten), you discover why we lost.
I can't wait until Chase Budinger comes back. Just wanted to throw that out there. He not only rebounds and shoots well, but he really opens up things for other guys with his versatility.
New Orleans needed more than David West to beat us this time around, and they got it, especially from Okafor. For the Rockets, it's off to Los Angeles to play the red-hot Lakers, and then the Suns the following night. After that, things ease up. Hopefully we'll come back to Houston with at least one win - that would be impressive enough.