Losses to the Lakers, Nuggets, Hornets and Spurs could be understood given the quality of the opponent and the instability of Houston’s lineups, but things were supposed to get better for the Rockets in both areas this week.
They were “supposed to,” anyway.
John Wall threatened a quadruple-double, popping off for 19 points, 13 assists, 10 boards and 6 steals, as the Washington Wizards used a 10-0 run in the final minutes to drop the Rockets 98-91 Wednesday night.
To make matters (much, much) worse, Yao Ming left in the first half with an injury that the team is calling a “tendon strain.” Yao said after the game that it is not near the fracture injury he is returning from and that he believes it is near the ankle.
“Tomorrow we’ll have a scan,” said Yao. “Until tomorrow, I can’t tell you anything.”
Unbelievably, the Rockets are dealt two more blows: they’re now 1-6 and there is uncertainty around their big man. Suddenly, every game looks like it’s going to be a dogfight.
It looked like the Rockets’ fourth quarter luck was going to change. Led by Kevin Martin (31 points, 7 boards, 6 assists), the Rockets went on a 9-2 run, giving them an 85-84 lead with 5:52 to go. For that minute and a half, Martin was brilliant — he scored 7 points and then capped the run by picking a steal and dishing an assist to Luis Scola (24 points).
But then, nothing. As has become their calling card, the Rockets went colder than death at winning time. They went scoreless for five full minutes and by the time they put the ball back in the basket, the Wizards were up 9 and had mentally moved on to the next game.
Size was the issue down the stretch as the 6-foot-11 Andray Blatche looked like Shrek next to the Rockets’ undersized frontline. Rick Adelman will no doubt be criticized for his late roster decisions, taking out Chase Budinger for Shane Battier at the 5:50 mark and running with Chuck Hayes on Blatche, keeping Jordan Hill nailed to the pine for the entire second half (technically he put him in with 7 seconds left).
Up to this early point of the season, Kyle Lowry just looks flat lost. He was 2-11 on the night tonight and has now missed 20 of his 25 shots on the year. Lowry admitted after the game that his timing is “off”, and it shows. Granted he’s been dealing with back spasms so he gets a pass, but the Rockets desperately need him back on track.
And it’s not just him — the key players expected to contribute off the bench have been out of synch offensively. Chase Budinger has been mud from deep this year (13%) and Courtney Lee hasn’t had near the impact expected, shooting under 38% from the field and a hair over 27% from long range.
The Rockets were supposed to come at you in waves this season, but so far, they’re just plain drowning.
Everything else is trivial compared to Yao Ming’s health. The Rockets can’t move in a long-term direction without determining that Yao is a foundation piece and the first seven games haven’t instilled confidence. Yao will have a scan done tomorrow and we’ll know more. The very big hope right now is that he’s OK, that this is something minor. If it’s major (which I doubt), well … we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.
The Indiana Pacers, led by Danny Granger, come next and what would have initially appeared as a win on an early glance at the schedule now looks iffy. Indiana recently lit up the Denver Nuggets with 20 straight field goals, so expect the Rockets’ defense to again be challenged.