By Jeff Case, NBA.com
Posted Mar 18 2010 12:15PM
Up to the trade deadline, the differences between Carl Landry and Luis Scola in Houston were hard to distinguish. Both played roughly the same amount (Landry averaged 27.2 mpg to Scola's 31.2 mpg), scored about the same (Landry at 16.1 ppg, Scola at 15.6) while Landry was the better shotblocker and Scola was the better rebounder.
Amid all of those statistical similarites was the Rockets' quandry of who to play down the stretch. Do they go with the banging, hustling Landry? Or do they play the jump-shooting, fleet-footed Scola instead? Tired of the guessing game (and more importantly, in need of more scoring), the Rockets dealt Landry to the Kings basically for Kevin Martin. As much as Martin has benefitted from the trade, Scola is doing more now than he ever did with Landry.
Since Landry's trade, Scola has seen his scoring average jump to 20.1 ppg and has played 37 or more minutes seven times in the last 12 games. (By comparison, he played in 37 or more minutes seven times in the Rockets' first 53 games.) His play in the last five games (in which Houston is 4-1) has given the team renewed hope in a late-season surge for the playoffs.
Coach Rick Adelman has praised Scola for his energy and rebounding prowess, something that was on full display last week in a big win over the Nuggets. It was Scola who had two quick baskets as Houston cut into the Nuggets' 11-point fourth-quarter lead, Scola who got an easy fast-break bucket to give Houston a 122-121 lead and Scola who came down with a late defensive rebound that gave Aaron Brooks a free-throw attempt that helped set up the game's final thrilling sequence.
While the Rockets have a steep climb to make it back to the playoffs, the post-trade deadline time has been a vital one for Scola and the Rockets' future.
What Scola is doing has been done while the Rockets' frontline has been banged up (David Andersen), is young (Jordan Hill, Hilton Armstrong) and is missing its franchise player (Yao Ming). If Scola's last two weeks of play are any prediction of the future, it looks like the Rockets won't have to worry about their quandry at the power forward spot anymore.
The Next Five
G George Hill, Spurs -- When word came out on March 8 that starting point guard Tony Parker would miss the next six weeks to recover from a broken right hand, how many of you started eulogizing the Spurs? But in typical Spurs fashion, a secondary-role player (Hill) has picked up the slack during an injury. Though Hill has been starting for the Spurs since about mid-Januray, he's had to move from shooting guard to point guard while the Spurs try to climb away from the No. 8 spot in the West. How's he done? San Antonio lost its first game with Hill as the starting point guard (March 8 vs. Cleveland), but has won four straight in fairly comfortable fashion with Hill in charge of the offense. We could quote you some stats here, but instead we'll focus on two key pieces of information. First, Hill hasn't tried to be Parker and score a ton of points, but rather tried to just keep the offense moving. "It's different just to play behind Tony than to then be asked to be the man in there, but I think he's doing a great job. We just have to help relax him and make him feel that he doesn't have to 'replace' Tony," teammate Manu Ginobili told the San Antonio Express-News. Second, he now has a clear sign that as a young player, he's turning heads around the league. Newspapers in other towns are bemoaning the hometown squad's inability to unearth a hidden gem like Hill (such as the Sun-Sentinel did last week after Miami's loss to the Spurs). Though he had an awful game against the Magic on Wednesday (two points, 1-of-5 shooting, four fouls in 30 minutes), we still think he's played well enough to earn himself a spot here.
G -- Jerry Stackhouse, Bucks: A game like Sunday night's was probably what the Bucks had in mind when they picked up Stackhouse off the waiver wire in midseason. As Milwaukee's go-to players (John Salmons, Brandon Jennings and Andrew Bogut) struggled through a 13-for-36 night against the Pacers and seemed to have their four-game win streak in jeopardy, Stackhouse found the fountain of youth. Stackhouse scored 20 points and nailed four 3-pointers in an otherwise quiet night and kept the Milwaukee offense moving along until Salmons and Bogut hit some big buckets down the stretch in the victory. Aside from his performance against the Pacers, Stackhouse also is giving the Bucks a little off-court edge, too, what with his recent barbs fired toward Spurs forward Richard Jefferson on his SIRIUS Satellite Radio show. His veteran play and touch of swagger gives the Bucks a little something to look forward to come playoff time.
F -- Nicolas Batum, Blazers: A few weeks ago, we spotlighted Batum and talked about how getting consistent play from the small forward spot has always been a problem for the Blazers. Over the last week or two, though, Batum has been as dependable as a well-set clock. Since his 31-point, seven-rebound, seven-assist game against Minnesota in late February, Batum has become a fairly reliable option on offense (11.9 ppg) and his defense has been solid, too. Aside from a 30-point game from Carmelo Anthony on March 7, Batum has kept his defensive matchup under wraps and was particularly solid on Sunday against Hedo Turkoglu. He held him to 14 points and pressured him into four turnovers while finishing with an efficient 22 points (on 7-for-9 shooting), with two rebounds, two blocks and a steal.
F -- Andray Blatche, Wizards: My NBA.com colleague (and reporter extraordinarie) David Aldridge touched on whether or not Blatche has become the sterotypical late-season fool's gold (the equation for which has usually been talented player plus big stats plus out-of-it team). There's a point there, considering Washington has lost nine straight games and has been beaten by 10 or more points in five of those games. Yet Blatche is doing more than just put up scoring stats (25.9 ppg during slide); he's blocking shots or getting steals (1.58 spg), he's rebounding (8.86 rpg) and he's shooting well (50.3 pct.) despite being a focus of defenses. We've liked what we've seen out of him since he took over the starting forward spot from Antawn Jamison. Coach Flip Saunders is impressed with his performance, too. "I don't think anybody's ever questioned Andray's skill level," Saunders told Aldridge. "It's been all the other factors. What you hope happens is, as I told him, the more success you have on the court, the more responsibility you hold off the court. And that kind of goes hand in hand. There's no question he's a building block."
C -- Mehmet Okur, Jazz -- Across the board, Okur's season has been one of his worst since signing with the Jazz as a free agent in 2004. He's posting near-career lows in scoring (13 ppg) and rebounding (6.8 rpg) and might have to go on a late scoring binge just to reach 200 3-pointers (he's had 200 or more in each of the last five seasons). All that being said, Okur has started to perk up in the last month and is averaging 17.6 ppg and 7.6 rpg in March (after about 12 points and seven rebounds a game the other five months this season). He helped stretch the Bucks' defense last week in Utah's loss to Milwaukee, scoring 20 points and nailing some perimeter jumpers late in the game. The Jazz will need to see more continued success from Okur if they want to make any real noise in the playoffs.
NBA.com's Five on the Rise is a weekly look at young players and resurgent veterans who have yet to reach stardom or who have regained the form of their younger day and, most of all, have made the biggest impact for their team in the last week. These rankings are just one man's opinion and are released every Thursday during the season. If you have an issue with the names on this list, or have a question or comment for Jeff Case, send him an e-mail.
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