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Monday April 6, 2009 0:19 AM

Rockets Roll To Big Win Over Portland

Big nights from Hayes, Wafer help Houston to 102-88 victory

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com Staff Writer

Houston - All hail The Cooler.

With Portland in town, it could only mean one thing: Chuck Hayes was about to make his presence felt. And right on cue, Hayes did what he always seems to do against the Blazers: Cooling off his man with some stellar 'D', owning the boards and even adding 9 points for good measure - all while helping Houston to a huge 102-88 victory Sunday night at Toyota Center.

With the win, the Rockets leapfrogged Portland to move back into the 4th spot in the Western Conference playoff race and now trail No. 3 San Antonio by a mere half game. What's more, the victory means Houston owns the tiebreaker over Portland by virtue of their 2-1 edge in head-to-head games this season - a feat accomplished in no small part due to the exemplary efforts of their burly back-up off the bench.

“Chuck was terrific," said Coach Rick Adelman after the game. "They came out and went right to (LaMarcus) Aldridge and got Luis (Scola) in foul trouble, and Chuck has played him pretty well every time that we've played them so it was good."

Indeed, after Aldridge got off to the aforementioned hot start, he slowed down the second Hayes came in, finishing the first quarter with two missed shots and a turnover. It was simply the continuation of a season-long theme; one which has witnessed Hayes do yeoman's work every single time he's stepped on the floor against Portland.

"I know (Aldridge) – he’s a great young talent in this league," said the fourth-year forward from Kentucky. "I don’t know if they try to go to him more so they can get me in foul trouble, or if he feels he can really score on me. I don’t think I’m in his head, I just think I have him scouted through watching film and watching how the game goes."

Hayes wasn't the only bench player providing Houston with a major lift Sunday night. Von Wafer poured in 12 points in 19 minutes, including a must-be-seen to be believed reverse baseline jam in the fourth quarter which electrified the Toyota Center faithful. Kyle Lowry earned praise from Coach Adelman as well, thanks to a solid performance which included 6 points and a team-leading six assists. Combined, their efforts went a long way in bringing balance to a Rockets' offensive attack led by Yao Ming.

"Tonight we executed better and the key is we limited turnovers," explained Yao, who led the team in points (21) and rebounds (12 - including 6 on the offensive glass). "That’s because we executed well and got our shots – we didn’t need to do a lot of over-dribbling which leads to turnovers. And also defense is a big key which gives us a lot of balance right there so we don’t need to worry about them coming back."

To be sure, the Rockets had to be thrilled with the way they closed out Sunday's contest after laboring through a pair of poor fourth quarters on the road this past week. Portland trimmed Houston's lead to four early in the final frame, but the Rockets immediately responded - with a Hayes tip-in naturally - and never allowed the Blazers to seriously threaten them the rest of the way.

"It was great to see, finally," admitted Shane Battier. "We struggled out west the past week, especially in the fourth quarter, and at home we expect to do those things. It’s great to see us finally do it and we need to put that in our memory bank and pull it out for next game.

"Nothing replicates the playoffs, but we knew this was a big game for a lot of reasons – tiebreakers, standings chasing and to get off a two-game losing streak. So this was a big game and it felt good to know we came in here with a business-like attitude and executed, and that’s what our mindset has to be going forward."

Perhaps no player better personified that business-like attitude Sunday night than Hayes. He came in, put on his hard hat and went to work - that's just what he does; especially against Aldridge and the Blazers. Which is why, should the two teams meet in the playoffs, Hayes would likely be the biggest X-factor on the Rockets' bench. It's a role he no doubt relishes. As for the new nickname, however...

"I mean, I'll roll with it," said a laughing Hayes. "But you might have to explain it to people every time someone calls me 'The Cooler'."

No such explanation should be necessary. Just hand out a copy of Sunday night's game - or any one of at least a dozen others in which Hayes has slowed down an elite power forward - and let the images that unfold send the message far and wide:

Opponents beware: The Cooler is coming - and your hot streak is coming to an end.

QUOTES

RICK ADELMAN

Just a terrific win for us. The guys came out the way we needed to and we finished the game – we played well in the fourth quarter to put it away. That’s a very good team we played and a very talented team, so we had to maintain our concentration and we did that.

(how did you like the execution when Portland fronted Yao?): I thought the last 6 to 8 minutes we were pretty good. If you asked me our execution when they were fronting him, it was awful. It’s really hard to understand when we talk about it time after time after time and we continue to be in the wrong spots. What happens is if we don’t get in the right spots initially, the clock is running down and now you’re in trouble.

I don’t understand. I just told the team: We play as hard as any team in the league. We for the most part defend, but it’s our concentration during parts of the game that lacks, and you can’t afford to do that. I know we have young guys in a lot of spots, but that’s something that we have to continue to get better (at) in the last five games. That’s all we’ve talked about is what we’re going to do when they front him. So I just think it’s something we’ve got to keep doing. We knew from the very first possession of the game when they put Aldridge on Yao what we were going to be faced with. And early in the game, we did okay. Luis got those jumpers and we had a pretty good sense, but it’s got to be more consistent right on through the game.

(On cutting down the turnovers) “Last time we played we stressed it (cutting down turnovers) before the Laker game, trust me, we had 23 (turnovers) so I guess we went down a little bit. You can't afford to give good teams more attempts, especially this team because they will really grind you out. If you turn it over against this team, they are going to run their stuff and they are going to grind it right into the floor and they are a great offensive rebounding team so I think it's imperative that we take care of the ball. We can't give easy opportunities to the other team.”

(On the play of the bench) “Chuck (Hayes) was terrific. They came out and went right to (LaMarcus) Aldridge and got Luis (Scola) in foul trouble and Chuck has played him pretty well every time that we've played them so it was good. Von (Wafer) gave us a lift offensively and I thought Kyle (Lowry) was really solid too when he came in the game.”

YAO MING

(On the Rockets defense) “I think we did a good job today of battling under the basket. I think we really contained them on the defensive end. I felt most proud about our defense in transition; I think we did well on that today. And we controlled the turnovers and that’s a big key right there”

(On the Blazers) “They are athletic and they are very young compared to us being old. They are athletic and they are fast. I think we need to use our experience well and get our position early. And effort – always effort”

(on closing them out in the fourth quarter): Tonight, first of all, we executed better and the key is we limited turnovers. That’s because we executed well and got our shots – we didn’t need to do a lot of over-dribbling which leads to turnovers. And also defense is a big key which gives us a lot of balance right there so we don’t need to worry about them coming back.

It’s a different opponent. The Lakers are a top team in this league so obviously if you want to go farther in the playoffs, you have to face them. But Portland, I think that’s about our level right there. That’s another reason we can execute better. But at least there’s improvement there. The other game against Phoenix, Phoenix is way behind us and we still didn’t play well.

SHANE BATTIER

(On the Rockets offense) “I think we did a good job of recognizing it (the fronting) and getting into our front offense earlier. I felt that Luis and Chuck did a great job of attacking. They were sort of left open at the high post and that's what it takes. It takes quick recognition and to try to beat them on the weak side.”

(statements made in this game?): Not really. Both teams are hard working teams. It’s going to be a physical series if we play those guys and we know that, and no one’s going to give an inch.

(confidence booster to prevail in a tight game in the fourth quarter after the last two losses?): It was great to see, finally. We struggled out west the past week, especially in the fourth quarter, and at home we expect to do those things. It’s great to see us finally do it and we need to put that in our memory bank and pull it out for next game.

Nothing replicates the playoffs, but we knew this was a big game for a lot of reasons – tiebreakers, standings chasing and to get off a two-game losing streak. So this was a big game and it felt good to know we came in here with a business-like attitude and executed, and that’s what our mindset has to be going forward.

LUIS SCOLA

(On the win) “It's a huge win for us. It would have really been a bad loss if we had lost versus how big of a win it is. We have got some big games coming but had we lost this one, we would have probably lost the home court advantage, so it was a big win for us.”

(On the possibility of playing Portland in the playoffs) “We were playing a team that we have a lot of chances of playing in the playoffs. There was a lot on the court today, not just the fourth spot which we have now, but also the tie-breaker and it was also a good statement for whoever won the game.”

CHUCK HAYES

(On the win) “This was a big game. After coming off the two game skid with Phoenix then L.A., we had an opportunity to make a statement at home against a team that we could potentially face in the first round (of the playoffs). We needed this one bad. We needed it not to just get a win for our record but also to fight for home court advantage in the playoffs.”

(on playing big minutes tonight): Sometimes I get the sense that my number might be called according to match-ups and depending how the game goes. And in the previous games against them, I’ve had success against Portland, whether due to foul trouble or giving the guys a breather, and I knew I had to be ready again tonight because their bigs play so hard – they run the court well, they rebound well, so I knew my number might be called.

(feel like you should have had a double-double tonight?): I’m not a scorer, but I do believe that every shot I took, I felt like it was a good shot. I felt like it was a shot that I had worked on. It sucks that it didn’t go in because you put so much repetition into it, but hey, I had my chance and we still won.

(on playing against LaMarcus and that he knows the second you step on the floor): I think he does. I know L.A. – he’s a great young talent in this league. I don’t know if they try to go to him more so they can get me in foul trouble, or if he feels he can really score on me. So I don’t think I’m in his head, I just think have him scouted through watching film and watching how the game goes.

(on the nickname "The Cooler"): (laughs) I don't know. I mean, I'll roll with it. But you might have to explain it to people everytime someone calls me "The Cooler."

AARON BROOKS

(On the game) “We had a good game today. Me and Kyle did a good job with the point guard. We got Yao the ball enough times and Luis played a big game today and I think we tried to get them out of pocket with their jumpers. We played a good game.”

(On the possibility of playing Portland in the playoffs) “I think we played pretty good against the TrailBlazers. In a first round match-up this might be our most favorable one, honestly. To come out here and play and make a stand, especially at home, plus we were playing to stay in fourth place. So, it's a big run for us. We don't want to take any steps back we want to continue moving forward.”

VON WAFER

(On the importance of the win) “It was a very big win. There was a lot on the line with the playoff implications and seeding, we got it done.”

(On the importance of maintaining energy) “We just can't bring the energy for this game. We have to keep it going. We have to keep it going against Orlando and when we play other teams down the stretch, we have to keep it going.”

(On the mentality of the team for playoffs) “I think we just want to stay solid and keep giving a good effort. That's all we can do and just hope that we are a better team like that.”

(on his monster dunk):I had tried it last game and Travis blocked it, so I was going to try it again and I snuck it past him. I was just going to try and dunk it, and if it got blocked, it got blocked.

(on his emotional response afterward): I was just excited. I just wanted to win and got a lot of excitement after that play.

(on his role with the team): I’ve got my legs under me, that’s the most important thing. My shots feel good; even the shots I miss, it feels like they’re right there. I just felt good out there. I’m getting more comfortable and getting more used to the guys.

TRAILBLAZERS COACH NATE MCMILLAN

(on were the early turnovers a key in the game?) Definitely, it was a key. Throughout the game we had costly turnovers at the wrong time. We were not sharp and we gave up too many easy baskets.”

(on the game) “You have to be physical and we didn’t establish that from the start.. Not a sharply played game. Artest and Battier do a great job of defending. They are a good defensive team. They were quicker to the ball than we were.”

(on clinching a playoff berth) “I congratulated the guys for getting there but our work is still not done. We have a chance for home court and we have to keep working for it.”

BRANDON ROY

(on Houston’s defense against him ) “They do a very good job. They are very physical. I missed some chippies at the basket that should have gone in.”

(on seeing the Rockets in the playoffs) “If we play them again we know we can do it. Our attitude today was that we were too relaxed. In the playoffs I think you will see a different team from both of us. We’ll be ready if we have to play them again.”

JOEL PRZYBLLA

(on the game) “They (Houston) were more physical than us. They out-worked us and wanted it more. They out-muscled us and did whatever they wanted to against us. Our game plan was to make Yao and Artest work hard on all of their shots. We wanted to front Yao and make Scola and others make the plays. Houston took advantage of opportunities and carried out their game plan well.”

GREG ODEN

(on his match-up with Yao) “Not a good one. I have to get better. I have to learn players better. He’s ( Yao) very strong and big and has a good touch. I am not afraid of him I just have to learn more.”

NOTES

Tonight’s attendance of 18,214 marks the 22nd sellout of the season at Toyota Center .

Houston took a 102-88 win over Portland tonight, capturing the season series 2-1 over the Trail Blazers and upping their home winning streak to four straight games over Portland .

The Rockets are now 31-8 at home in 2008-09, which equals the best single-season win total at Toyota Center (31-10 in 2007-08).

Houston connected on 37-of-72 (.514) from the field tonight, giving the Rockets a .500 shooting night in three of the last four games (..524, 43-82 FG on 3/28/09 vs. L.A. Clippers and .500, 43-86 FG on 4/1/09 at Phoenix ).

The Rockets took a 42-28 edge in the paint tonight and turned the ball over just eight times. It marked the fourth single-digit turnover game of the season, which includes an eight-turnover performance at Portland (11/6/08).

Yao Ming registered 21 points (6-10 FG, 9-11 FT), 12 rebounds, three assists and one block tonight. He now has a double-double in each of his last five games. Yao registered a double-double in a career-high seven consecutive games last season (1/19/08-2/2/08).

Luis Scola finished with 16 points (8-10 FG) and six rebounds tonight. Scola also recorded a 15-point, 11-rebound double-double in the previous meeting vs. Portland (2/24/09).

The backcourt of Ron Artest (15) and Aaron Brooks (14) combined for 29 points tonight. Artest also had 21 points (9-10 FT), five assists and three steals in the last meeting vs. Portland (2/24/09), while Brooks registered 20 points (2-5 3FG) and five boards.

Chuck Hayes posted a season-best nine points (4-7 FG) and a season-high-tying 10 rebounds tonight. His previous season best was six points (3-4 FG) to go along with five rebounds in the last game vs. Portland (2/24/09). Hayes now owns 29 career double-digit rebounding performances.

Von Wafer and Kyle Lowry helped lead a 30-point fourth quarter by the Rockets tonight. Wafer scored six of his 12 points in the final quarter, while Lowry dished out five of his team-high six assists.

LaMarcus Aldridge recorded 22 points (7-15 FG, 8-11 FT), nine rebounds and three blocks tonight. Aldridge also had a team-high 27 points (12-20 FG) at Portland (11/6/08) and added 21 points (7-19 FG, 7-10 FT) in the prior contest at Houston (2/24/09).

Brandon Roy also notched 22 points (8-20 FG) and six assists tonight. Roy led Portland with 24 points (10-23 FG, 4-4 FT) and five assists in the last game at Houston (2/24/09)..

Travis Outlaw added 15 points (7-13 FG) and five boards off the bench for the Trail Blazers.

Nicolas Batum, who scored all of 14 points in the third quarter in the previous meeting at Houston (2/24/09), recorded a four-point play after getting fouled on a 3-point make with 3:23 left in the first quarter and hitting the ensuing free throw.

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