With no answer for Ellis, Rockets get rolled

Houston Rockets bench

Rockets perimeter defenders had no answer for the Warriors guards, especially Monta Ellis

There’s a sour taste in my mouth, and it has little to do with these Chewy Lemonheads I raided from my kid’s Halloween bag.

Houston’s defense, the team’s primary focus during training camp (See: 1 | 2 | 3), was a no-show Wednesday night as Monta Ellis ruptured the Rockets for 46 points to lead the Warriors to a 132-128 win and drop Houston to 0-2.

Ellis, who played a bit like a young Michael J. Fox in a wolf suit, scored 27 in the first half and hit 16 of his first 20 shots, including several mid-range jumpers. It was cartoon-like what he was doing to the Rockets backcourt defense, which right now is making even the Houston Texans secondary cringe.

Rockets coach Rick Adelman called Ellis’ performance a “great effort,” but he wasn’t happy with his team’s defensive execution.

“We did not shut off his drives and he was able to get to the basket on us,” said Adelman. “We talked about exactly what he was going to do when he gets the ball on the right side of the court when he comes off pick and rolls. You can’t wait and then be surprised when he attacks the basket. We’ve got to get over there, load up and zone up. Curry is a great shooter but they don’t have a lot of other guys who shoot the ball all that well. It was like he surprised us or something.”

Ellis was in a zone rarely seen, but then again so was Shannon Brown and Steve Blake in the fourth quarter of the opener. Flukes to shoot that lights out? Let’s hope so, but the Rockets perimeter defense is sure making you wonder.

Identity Theft
You can’t draw any firm conclusions from such a small sample size, especially when Yao Ming didn’t even play in this one, but doesn’t there have to be a little concern that the Rockets identity as an elite defensive unit is a thing of the past? There’s no way that they’re this bad, but does the core of a top 5 defense, like they had from 2002-2009, give up 132 against anyone?

If not defense, there is another trait that could become the Rockets calling card — free throw domination. The Rockets got to the line an eye-opening 52 times in this game and are hitting 85% from the stripe through the first two. For perspective, the best free throw-shooting team in the league last year was Dallas at 81.6%.

Kevin Martin alone is 24-24 from the line so far, including 17 of those coming tonight.

Mr. Scolastic
Luis Scola finished with 36 points and 16 boards, 14 and 5 of which came in the fourth period. He is now averaging 27 and 16 after the first pair of contests. Obviously that was skewed tonight by the defense and pace — those averages are going to trend down — but Scola has picked up right where he left off this summer at the World Championship. He’s crashing the glass and using his crafty style to score points. Here are all of his highlights in this one:

Kevin Martin added 28 points and Chuck Hayes, getting the starting nod at center, tied a career high with 16 points to go with 8 boards and 6 assists. Aaron Brooks struggled, going just 4-15 from the floor.

Still No Hill
Jordan Hill didn’t play in the opener against the Lakers, which didn’t surprise me that much. Adelman wasn’t too complimentary about Hill in this story, saying he wanted to see more consistency and mental focus out of the young forward.

But tonight… no Hill still? With Yao Ming out and Brad Miller sitting most of the night in a ping pong affair, this would seem to have been one of the best chances for Hill, an athletic big who can get out and run, to separate himself from the pine. Didn’t happen. Whether it’s to develop him or to showcase him for a trade, you would think the Rockets would want to create some kind of opportunity here soon to get Hill some floor time.

Wanted: One Kyle Lowry
Aaron Brooks is a fine point guard, but he’s far from a complete one. Brooks brings quickness, speed and deadly outside shooting, but when you need defense and stability in managing the offense, you turn to Lowry. His flaws are balanced out beautifully by Lowry, and vice versa.

You could make a strong argument that the Rockets would be 2-0 right now with a healthy Kyle. They need him back. Yesterday.

On Deck
Not panicking. I expected a split on this road trip, but I also believed that there would be growing pains with the defense and that the Yao limitations would take a toll so I can’t be shocked when I see both occurring. This season is going to get better as we go — Yao is going to get stronger, the return of Lowry should help bolster the backcourt defense and this cast will start to gel.

Still, it would have been nice to show off a better record than 0-2 at the door of our first date with Carmelo Anthony, who we hope to send a nice Valentine to in February. The Rockets will have to find some other way to impress as the Nuggets come to town for Houston’s home opener this Saturday night.

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