Who are these players and what have you done with the guys who just swept that road trip?
It started so well, with Marcus Camby dominating the first quarter en route to a seven point lead at the end of the period. In the second, the Rockets put the cruise control on and maintained their lead, scoring just enough to keep the Suns at bay. Despite missing the vast majority of their jumpers, the team maintained their lead on another great effort from Marcus Camby, who was relentless on the glass.
In a trend that has become all too familiar in recent weeks, the Rockets carried a lead into halftime only to blow it in the third quarter. They couldn't make a shot the entire quarter, and their defense mirrored their play. I don't know how McHale can remedy this except by benching sluggish players, but the trend is nonetheless worrisome.
The team shot a putrid 6-22 in the third, and saw their four point lead evaporate and turn into a twelve point deficit. Steve Nash, held scoreless in the first half, scored ten in a pick-and-roll clinic. In his post-quarter interview, all Kevin McHale could say was that the team needed to improve their effort and make some shots.
In the fourth, the Rockets made their trademark comeback, but came up just a bit short. After Jared Dudley made a three to put the Suns up 8 inside of 40 seconds, the crowds quickly fled the scene of the crime and hurried to their cars. A few moments later, the Suns had pulled out a crucial victory.
1. Marcus Camby
Camby started quickly, gathering ten rebounds before the first quarter was over. By the end of the first half, he was at 10 points and 18 rebounds. During that first half, he controlled the paint and kept the Suns off the boards. Despite this, McHale opted to keep Camby on the bench for the entirety of the 4th quarter, running with Luis Scola at center.
In the end, Camby put up a gaudy stat line: 14 points, 18 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, and 3 blocks in just 29 minutes of work. That's a game the Rockets will accept from their starting center every time.
2. Point Guards
The addition of Kyle Lowry has infused a steady point guard into the Rockets' bench rotation and that showed tonight. Lowry, often playing with Dragic, finished with 11 points and 7 assists while Dragic scored 22 points and had 7 assists to boot.
Some say that the Rockets have a problem with two starting caliber point guards on their roster, but it is becoming a tremendous advantage. When Lowry gets back to full strength, the Rockets will try to get both of them 30 minutes per night, a move that will undoubtedly help the Rockets on the offensive end.
1. Third Quarter Woes
As I mentioned earlier, the Rockets laid a nice fat stinker in the third quarter, allowing 30 points while scoring just 14. I don't know if the team has started enjoying a Ron Artest halftime routine, but this is a developing trend that needs to stop if the Rockets want to go anywhere this postseason.
The worst thing about the third quarter was that when the shots stopped falling, the pick and roll defense fell apart. Great teams count on their defense to carry them through rough patches, and the Rockets were unable to do so tonight.
2. Power Forward Play
Going into the season, everybody loved to rib Daryl Morey on his love for power forwards. He collected them in bunches in the draft and in trades, and even tried to acquire one before the season to be his centerpiece moving forward. Behind the jokes was a quiet confidence in the fact that the Rockets could count on their power forwards to produce night in and night out.
Luis Scola was a consistently improving big man who couldn't miss a mid-range shot, and Patrick Patterson was the well-regarded young big man with two way potential. Now? Scola is getting rejected more often than your neighborhood telemarketer, and Patrick Patterson has lost his touch around the rim.
Tonight, they gave the same mediocre performance that we have come to expect in recent weeks. Scola's predictable post game was snuffed out by Marcin Gortat in the second half, and Patrick Patterson never gained any traction offensively. Scola had a mini-resurgence a few weeks ago after some extra rest and the Rockets will need another one out of him very soon.
This game does not end the Rockets' hopes for a postseason run, but it certainty put a damper on them. Look for the Rockets to rebound with a Sunday matchup in Denver at 7 PM CT.