Preview & Chat: The Houston Rockets

Kurt —  January 13, 2009

Sports News - November 10, 2008

Records: Lakers 30-6 (1st in West) Rockets 24-15 (7th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 113.1 (2nd in league) Rockets 106.7 (KROQ)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 103.8 (5th in league) Rockets 103.4 (4th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Vladimir Radmanovic, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Rockets Rafer Alston, Von Wafer, Shane Battier, Luis Scola, Yao Ming

About The West: Sure, the Lakers have looked like the best team in the West so far this season, but if you think it’s going to be easy getting out of the Western Conference you are in for a shock. It’s early, but if the playoffs started today Utah would be the eight seed. San Antonio as the two seed would get Houston. That’s tough.

Paging Hawkeye and Trapper John: This is the Lakers M*A*S*H* unit update.

Lamar Odom has said he’s not quite ready to play, although Phil says he feels a lot better. It should be noted here that coaches are really poor sources of information about how a player is recovering, they are always the last to know and find out from the trainer not the player. Odom played full-speed 3 on 3 in practice yesterday but may or may not go tonight. With Odom it is a matter of pain management, there is nothing structurally wrong it’s just the pain issue. He could be back tomorrow, or it could be a few more days.

Sasha Vujacic has back spasms, and the only thing that could make those hurt more is sitting on a plane. So, he’s sitting at home in the last report anyone has. Again, it is possible he could play tomorrow, but I wouldn’t bet on it. He likely will not be pissing of Houston fans tonight.

Luke Walton is still wearing a boot because, as Phil Jackson said, apparently bad feet run in his family. He’s not on the trip and may not play until next week or later.

Jordan Farmar is going through rehab after his surgery but don’t expect him for about a month.

The Rockets Coming In: The Lakers are not the only team battling the injury bug. The Rockets tonight are without Tracy McGrady (insert papier-mâché joke here) and Ron Artest.

We’re fortunate here at FB&G to have a Rockets fan as a regular reader, and Steven sent along these thoughts.

The Rockets are coming off a brutal stretch of 3 back-to-backs in 9 days, with a Toronto/Atlanta back-to-back at the beginning. Houston (23) and GS (24) have played the most road games in the NBA. As of end of Sunday, no other team in the West has played more than 19 road games. On the other hand, if the Rockets can stay in the middle of the pack thru the All-Star break, their Feb schedule sets them up for another good run.

Von Wafer has been starting for the past couple of games. Von Wafer has been STARTING for the Rockets the past couple of games! I think that sums up Houston’s injury problems. McGrady has almost no explosive finishing ability. He can get past his man, but can’t finish-his shot is getting blocked by everybody, and he’s getting stripped quite a bit also. Battier is finally back — we think — and the defense looked incredibly better with him in the line-up, but he is no scorer. Artest is likely gone for another week or so.

Alston has struggled w/his shot all season. Other than that he has been good defensively, and sets up the offense, but…

Brooks has exploded this year. His modest numbers don’t really show how much of an impact he has. When he’s on the court the offense has motion and energy. He can shoot 3s from way beyond the line and pushes the pace. He’s the only Rocket other than McGrady who can penetrate and dish. Almost the entire fan base wants Brooks to start. Adelman has had him finish several games recently. Looking thru the +/- figures, Brooks and McGrady work well together and Artest and Alston work well together. Brooks and Artest do not mesh well at all, which bodes ill as Artest is slated to come off the bench when everybody’s healthy.(The starting unit of McGrady, Battier, Scola and Yao has twice the +/- per minute rate w/Brooks rather than Alston. Small sample, but indicative.)

Yao gets amazingly few shots for a team w/a crippled corps of wing players. If he’s fronted, he disappears. He gets tired after 6-7 minutes of court time and his shot becomes very flat and he picks up silly fouls. He is completely refreshed after a short break.

The Rockets live by the 3 and die by the 3. Their guards get more shots rejected than any other four teams combined, simply astonishing.

There are no leapers on the Rockets. There is no height outside of Yao. Gasol and Bynum should dominate the glass. Landry has not shown the finishing explosiveness of last year but he has shown a nice 18-foot jumper.

Rick Adelman has been fielding some of the shortest lineups in NBA history. Hayes (6’6″,heh!), Landry(6’7″) and some combo of Head (6’3″), Wafer(6’5″, heh again), Alston(6’2″) and Brooks(5’9″).

Keys To The Game: With what is left of the Rocket roster, their offense looks a lot more like Rudy T.’s than Adelman’s — get the ball to the big man in the post and put a bunch of three point shooters around the arc. To defend that, the Lakers have to be cognizant of who is at the arc and close out on the shooters.

This should be a night for the Lakers big men to shine. First, it seems odd with this lineup but the Rockets are not a good rebounding team, the Lakers can and should dominate the glass.

Second, we need to see more of the high-low game from the Heat win, and other interior passing, from Gasol and Bynum tonight. If you let Yao Ming stand there, he is really hard to shoot over and around. But, he is not light on his feet, if you move the ball around in the post he cannot recover fast enough.

The Lakers starters should be able to run on the Rockets, whose guards are not great transition defenders.

These are Stevens’s thoughts:

This game I expect a huge game from Kobe and a modest Laker lead turning into a mini-blowout late 3Q,early 4Q. But unlike the first game where I knew a blowout was going to happen, this time I think there’s a chance for a Rocket win. I have a hard time seeing anybody on Lakers who can guard Brooks, the Rockets get hot from 3, Yao puts Bynum in foul trouble and Scola hustles himself into a 20pt game. Possible, but not the way to bet.

Where you can watch: 5:30 start here in Los Angeles, the game is on KCAL 9 and nationally on NBA TV.