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First time I've said this all year: The Rockets *need* to win tonight (v. Knicks)

Tonight the Rockets host the New York Knicks (7:30pm CST!). 

Normally I would chalk this game up as a "W" and not even think twice about it.  I mean, come on, it's the Knicks - a team the Rockets have owned since David Stern fixed the lottery to give New York that Patrick Ewing guy.  They are just a horrible team run by a horrible owner... and a coach that has to be kicking himself daily for not taking the Chicago Bulls job instead.  Plus, the stink of Isiah Thomas has yet to subside.

And yet I am worried about this game. 

I guess it's because the Rockets are on a 3-game losing streak.  And while the streak is bad enough, it's the way in which the Rockets have been losing that bothers me.  They gave away the game in New Orleans because they got content with a double digit third-Q lead.  Then they couldn't make a shot (or a free throw) against the Lakers.  Of course, this didn't stop them from chucking 3s at every opportunity.  Then the game against the Suns showed the Rockets making no effort to rotate on defense or box out for rebounds.  It was tough to watch.

Granted, a lot of this was inevitable.  You can't start a 6'6" center and not expect the other 29 teams in the league to adjust at some point.  Chuck Hayes plays hard every night, but we can't ignore the built in limitations he possesses.  This is also a transition year for Trevor Ariza.  He's been a role player for 23 years but now is thrust into a situation where he has to be a primary offensive option (and, *cringe*, a primary ballhandler).  While Tom has pointed out the Ariza needs to dial it back a notch - the truth is that Morey and Adelman are encouraging Trevor to explore his range and potential ceiling as an offensive option.  The natural conclusion to all of this is that the Rockets are going to suffer through a few bumps in the road.  Which is okay.

What really concerns me is that the Rockets have become the one thing they can't afford to be.  Predictable.

In November, the Rockets didn't care about having a "go-to" scorer in the end - because Rick Adelman's motion offense was supposed to negate the need for such a player.  So we saw a rotation of big nights between Aaron Brooks, Carl Landry, Luis Scola, Trevor Ariza and even Chase Budinger.  (Remember when Ariza was hitting a new career high every other night?)  But now we find ourselves in a rut.  Carl Landry is playing like a man on a mission.  But teams have adjusted.  And now the Rockets oftentimes find themselves standing around not knowing what to do when Landry is being doubled. 

The simple answer is:  give Luis Scola the damn ball.  But it's hard to do that when Coach Sleepy has him chained to the bench.  Instead, the Rockets need to go back to what made them successful to start the year -- out-work and out-hustle the opponent.  That means boxing out, rotating like mad-men on defense, running the fast break on any long rebound, moving the ball around on offense, and taking good shots.  (It also means making your free throws, Trevor.)

And the Knicks are a perfect opponent for the Rockets to regain momentum.  Go back to fundamentals.  Make that extra pass.  Make sure you secure the defensive rebound.  And then run your asses off to get a layup at the other end.  Oh, and please, for the love of God, make that layup. 

Tracy McGrady ain't walking through that door.  Yao Ming ain't walking through that door (until next October).  There's no Kobe Bryant or LeBron on this roster.  There's no 7' tall shot-blocker on the roster.  No one ever said it would be easy, and the grind of January and February is about to set in.  But you gotta push through this if you wanna prove my "the Rockets won't win more than 35 games" prediction wrong.  And, yes, I want to be proven wrong.

So, pretty please, with sugar on top... beat the f--kin' Knicks tonight.