Rockets emerge, but not the ones we expected
After beating Portland on the road last night, the Rockets wake up to find themselves one game out of the playoff picture and a game and a half behind the 7th seed. They’ve won 4 in a row, and 8 of their last ten; if not for a let down at home against Philly, their recent string (including a win at home against the Spurs) would have all taking notice.
But it is not the players who were heralded as the ones to take the team over the top at the beginning of the season that are making a difference. Stevie Franchise and Mike James, proclaimed as difference makers, are getting little to no playing time.
It is the kids, Carl Landry and Aaron Brooks and Luis Scola who are proving to be the difference makers. Though they are rookies and make rookie mistakes, they are bringing energy and desire to the talent that Yao and McGrady have, and seem to be energizing the old timers on the team.
Coach Adelman barely played them at the beginning of these season; maybe this was his plan all along, so that they wouldn’t hit the rookie wall (ala Kevin Durant); maybe he was simply searching for anyone on the roster that would play hard and put some heart in the game.
He’s found it with these three: Landry on the boards and in the paint, Scola hustling and hitting the mid-range jumper (though he runs hot and cold there) and Brooks turning on the speed and going to the basket.
The Rockets play two teams immediately above them in the standings with Utah and Golden State at home. That is followed by a three game eastern road trip against beatable opponents, then a four game homestand before the All-Star break. Though the competition is tough (Golden State is playing quite well), the Rockets could find themselves in the 7th or 8th spot at the break, posed for a stretch run…or they could play like they did against Philly and still be looking up at the rest.
They lost tonight to the Jazz with Yao out with an upper respiratory infection, but they lost it by missing their free throws as well.