DENVER, April 16 (Ticker) --
Kiki Vandeweghe and Jeff Bzdelik will spend
the next month hoping for the top overall pick. They got a good
look at what it could mean.
had 13 points, 16 rebounds and five blocks in the
finale of a fine rookie season as the Houston Rockets defeated
the Denver Nuggets, 89-84.
The Rockets won last year's draft lottery and selected Yao, the
7-5 Chinese center who went from unknown to oddity to All-Star
in his first season. Although he did not get the Rockets
(43-39) into the playoffs, the team improved 15 games and has an
extremely bright future.
Despite playing in last summer's World Championships, not
joining the Rockets until midway through the exhibition season
and battling a language barrier and intense media attention, Yao
averaged 13.5 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.1 blocks while not
missing a game.
"Now with the season over, I can have a little quiet time away
from basketball," Yao said through an interpreter. "With the
win, at least I won't be in a bad mood at the end of the season.
I wasn't in the mood that I was in yesterday, where I felt a
little lazy. Evaluating this season, I think I could do better.
I don't think that I have technically improved that much, but
I think that I have a better feel for the NBA game."
The Nuggets admittedly were in a rebuilding phase and went just
17-65, matching the Cleveland Cavaliers for the NBA's worst
record. In this year's lottery on May 22, Denver and Cleveland
each will have a 22.5 percent chance of receiving the top pick.
"I think it's an interesting way of doing it," said Vandeweghe,
the team's general manager. "I think it's a very fair way of
doing it. There's a lot of good players out there to pick from.
We're excited and hopefully, it works out well."
The consensus top pick is Ohio high school sensation LeBron
James, a 6-8 wing player with precocious all-around skills. He
would be a good fit for the Nuggets, who struggled to score all
season and had just one player - impending free agent Juwan
- who averaged more than 11 points per game.
"It's going to take a lot more than that for us to get where we
want to get to," said Bzdelik, who completed his first season as
a head coach. "There's a lot more to building this basketball
team than just a draft pick. We just don't have enough weapons
to score. One area we really need to address is we need to
bring in guys who can score. The player makes the offense, the
offense doesn't make the player."
The Nuggets lost their last eight games, going winless in April
for the first time in franchise history. They were last in the
league in offense and used 34 different starting lineups,
including one that featured four rookies.
Nevertheless, Vandeweghe was happy with Bzdelik, and the coach
was happy with his players.
"I think he performed really well," Vandeweghe said. "We didn't
really measure the season as far as wins and losses go. You
want to look at this team has established an identity and Jeff
is big part of that. We're a very hard-working
defensive-oriented team that teams don't enjoy playing.
Hopefully, we can build on that."
"I knew I'd be taking bullets. I knew it," Bzdelik said. "I
knew this roster as it stands was not going to be successful in
a big way. So I'll strap my flak jacket on and I'm going
forward. I'm going to battle and see this thing through. I'm
determined to be here and make this thing work. ... There's been
a lot of positive things in the growth and development in these
Yao was part of a balanced attack for the Rockets, who had five
players in double figures. James Posey
and Steve Francis
17 points each, Cuttino Mobley
added 16 and Glen Rice 14.
scored 15 points for the Nuggets, who were
outscored, 29-4, at the foul line. Denver shot eight free
throws while Houston shot 35.
The Rockets took the lead for good with a 15-4 run that ended
the third quarter. Former Nugget James Posey had three
thunderous dunks during the surge, including a pair off
"You saw I called a timeout," said Bzdelik, who lit into his
team for poor transition defense. "You have to get back. Young
players' minds comes and goes."
The Rockets took a 71-64 lead into the final period and widened
it to 79-68 on a 3-pointer by Mobley with 8:56 left. But Denver
held Houston scoreless for nearly five minutes and closed to
81-79 on a jumper by Howard with 2:15 to play.
However, Glen Rice
answered with a 3-pointer, and it was at least a
two-possession game thereafter.
"We had a fantastic third quarter," Rockets acting coach Larry
Smith said. "It was a gutsy performance by all of our guys. It
was a tough year for us and I am happy we finished strong. We
had opportunities but didn't get into the playoffs. Hopefully,
we will learn from those and get better next year."