Houston Rockets Sing Opening Night Blues After Botched Hollywood Ending
A basketball game can swing faster than the finest Miles Davis' quintet during its famed concert at the Philharmonic. Forgive Rick Adelman if he was not jazzed about how his team's Tuesday night ended.
One moment, the Houston Rockets led by 15. The next, they trailed the two-time defending champion L.A. Lakers 92-88. In a flash, Shannon Brown and Steve Blake turned a potential opening night stinker for the celebrated hosts into a 112-110 head-scratcher for the mysterious visitors.
In the first and second quarters, the Rockets threatened to blow open the game. In the final period, they just blew it.
Pau Gasol repeatedly put anyone who tried to check him in a Kevin McHale-like torture chamber. He finished with 29 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks. Kobe Bryant awoke from his early slumber to notch 27 points. When Phil Jackson demanded more free throw trips, his best players obliged with facile rim assaults.
Houston blazed like a four-alarm fire early but evaporated like dry ice midway through the fourth quarter. From there, Adelman had to admire that his squad managed to keep contact.
The Rockets are mysterious because no one, including Adelman, knows if Yao Ming can return to previous All-Star form after a 16-month layoff, or if the Aaron Brooks-Kevin Martin backcourt can deliver in winning time. Tuesday's nail biter did nothing to quell the questions or concerns.
The Houston bench bludgeoned its comatose L.A. reserve counterparts 22-6. That was before Blake and Brown buried five triples in the fourth frame. Chase Budinger sizzled with 11 first-half points. He fizzled with just two the rest of the way.
The Lakers shot just 41 percent and dropped the rebounding battle by nine. The Rockets outscored the champs by five on the fastbreak, 17-12. There were other positives that suggest the road team should have recorded a "W."
Kevin Martin poured in 19 first-half points. Luis Scola scored 18 points and hauled down 16 rebounds. The pace for much of the game favored the up-tempo Rockets. They swished buckets before the Lakers could set up something that resembled a passable defense.
Yao, playing in his first meaningful contest since May 2009, impressed with nine points, 11 rebounds and two blocks. Free-agent signee Brad Miller grabbed nine boards and dished two spectacular behind-the-back dimes.
Then, the fourth quarter happened, and it made the Rockets' warts look worse. Houston committed 20 turnovers, an unacceptable number in any gym. Scola was heroic with some late buckets and his glass work, but he also missed several gimmes at the rim that Adelman would love to get back.
Martin scored just seven points after his 24-minute eruption. Yao fouled out just before his 24-minute limit was about to expire. Brooks lacked the demonstrative demeanor in the clutch he must show on a consistent basis. A well-intentioned play to get him the game-tying lay-up became a brick lodged between the Lakers seven-foot trees.
No one could have expected the Rockets to embody perfection. Kyle Lowry was sidelined again thanks to an injury. Miller missed a chunk of the preseason after he sprained his ankle. Yao will need more than a month to approximate a dominant player again. This team needed one thing it could not obtain: more time to remove the bugs before the games mattered.
Yet, the roster uncertainties and concerns that have caused many to doubt the Rockets' playoff readiness became bigger questions after Tuesday's misfire. Can Miller, 34, even guard his own shadow? Can Brooks and Martin finish games the way everyone in the NBA knows they can start them? How can Adelman maximize Yao's court time? How should the coach use the 7'6" center, given his current limitations and injury history?
Martin's defense ranged from active to atrocious. Ditto for Brooks and prized trade acquisition Courtney Lee. Scola looked like a lost puppy at a flea market, given the number of times Odom left him in his dust en route to a backdoor cut or a simple roll. Too many guys in red watched the ball, and Bryant, instead of their assigned men.
Yao, at times, reminded of what he was before he broke his left foot. He drilled his patented Shanghai Shake over Gasol. He finished a one-handed slam with authority. He sent back a pair of lay-ups. His presence alone created open looks that did not exist last season.
He also missed 7-of-11 shots, coughed-up the ball four times, and was late providing help on several pick-and-rolls. The Rockets, much like their franchise cornerstone, did not expect to flash mid-March form or a finished product in the champ's house in late October.
The NBA does not afford the weary or the defeated much rest. The Rockets head to Oakland tonight to face a Golden State Warriors team determined to at least spell "defense." A beefed-up frontline that includes two of the league's best per-minute rebounders, David Lee and Andris Biedrins, will test Houston again.
The Rockets may have missed their best opportunity to spoil the Lake Show, with Andrew Bynum in street clothes and Bryant still in recuperation mode. Adelman, however, cannot fret too much about the final result from game one of 82, but he had to wonder after Tuesday night, as many viewers did, if his squad is, indeed, all that jazz.
For now, the Rockets must sing the blues.
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