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Easy Does It

March 23, 2013 12:37 am EDT

Rockets roll past injury-ravaged Cavaliers, now ready for toughest test of the season

HOUSTON - There was absolutely no reason for the Rockets to mess around with the injury-ravaged Cleveland Cavaliers Friday night. As the clearly superior team in every conceivable way, Houston’s coaches challenged their team to make quick work of the competition. Suffice to say the Rockets responded to the test. In ways big and small, Houston outclassed, overpowered and ultimately overwhelmed the Cavs en route to recording an emphatically convincing 116-78 victory.

The signs of utter and absolute domination were everywhere. The Rockets owned a 56-24 advantage in paint points, a 54-32 edge on the glass and didn’t even have to bother playing their starters in the fourth quarter. You know the cliché that states there’s no such thing as an easy win in the NBA? It may well be true, but Friday night’s Rockets romp came awfully close to dispelling it. Forced to play without the services of injured Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Anderson Varejao, Cleveland simply couldn’t keep up. And unlike still streaking Miami, Houston was in no mood to let the Cavs hang around any longer than necessary.

“It’s a sign of us maturing,” said Chandler Parsons who finished the night with a neat and tidy 13 points in 28 minutes of action. “I think a lot of teams would overlook something like this like the Heat did (falling behind by 27 Wednesday night), but we understand what’s at stake right now and how big games like this are. It would have hurt to lose one of these so it was big.”

The magnitude of Houston’s mastery was so immense and so very complete that the Rockets’ reserve unit got in on the act as well. Thomas Robinson stuffed the stat sheet with a career-high 15 points, six rebounds, three steals and two blocks. Greg Smith also delivered a career best Friday night while pulling down 13 boards. And Patrick Beverley reprised his role as a defensive agitator of the highest order, vexing and frustrating the Cavs throughout with numerous plays produced as a result of a motor that lacks anything even remotely resembling an off switch.

Put simply, the Rockets took care of business and did exactly what they needed to do. Now the true test begins. 

Starting with Sunday night’s showdown against San Antonio, Houston is about to embark upon a week that may well prove to be the toughest the team has seen all year. Sunday offers the Rockets their fourth and final chance to knock off the Spurs this season. Wednesday brings Indiana to town, a team that currently sits No. 2 in the East, boasts the league’s best defense and one that convincingly beat Houston back in January on the Pacers’ home floor. Friday night the Rockets travel to Memphis to take on a Grizzlies team that is 17-6 and on a serious roll since dealing away Rudy Gay. Then Saturday sees Houston return home for its third game in four nights – a scheduling quirk that has not brought out the best in the Rockets so far this season – for a matchup with the Lob City Clippers.

You get the idea. After breezing by the Cavs, Houston is now in for a week’s worth of litmus tests to determine just how much they’ve learned and grown as a group. There will be nothing easy about it. To their credit, they wouldn’t want it any other way.

“These next four are going to really test us,” admitted Jeremy Lin. “We’re going to play really, really good teams. This is going to be it. This could make or break it for us so we realize that.”

Throughout the vast majority of this season, the Rockets have performed like a playoff caliber club. They are the best defensive rebounding team in the NBA and the proud owners of a top-five offense. Their point differential, in fact, makes a rather compelling case that they are one of the ten best squads in the league. Those numbers only hold so much meaning, however. At a certain point, every team has to prove its quality on the floor against the top competition. Houston has aced so many tests this season, but that one in particular has stymied them far more often than not.

Now they get another chance. Ready or not, the Rockets are about to be bombarded with a bevy of problems that promise no easy solutions. Play their cards right and it just might turn out to be a tune up for the final exam they hope awaits them in the playoffs. Either way, the answers they’ll provide in the week to come figure to be telling. How far have the Rockets come and where do they really rank in the NBA hierarchy? They’re about to find out.

QUOTES

KEVIN MCHALE

(On team's play) “I thought we were pretty good. I thought we got some pretty good ball movement. We got to the line 27 times. That's big for us if we're getting to the line. If we can have like 25 free throws and 25 assists, that's huge for us, that's our goal. We moved the ball pretty well, we had a lot of turnovers but they kind of came in the flow and they weren't killer turnovers. I thought that a lot of guys had good solid games. Anytime you have 7 guys in double figures, that's good.”

(On game planning against a depleted Cavaliers team) “We said that we've got to rebound. One thing I was really concerned about was their ability to get on the boards. We did a pretty good job especially early getting them off(the boards). Coach(Byron) Scott had them playing really hard. That's a credit to them, they've had a lot of injuries. I watched the Miami(Heat) game and those guys(Cavaliers) were going to play hard, I knew that. I knew if we didn't come out and match them, we'd have trouble. Now, for us with 13 games left to go, every game is going to be big down the stretch for us, so we're going to have to muster energy down the stretch every night.”

(On defensive rebounding) “We've been rebounding better. We've had slippages and stuff but I think if you say overall, over a ten game stretch, I would say our defensive rebounding would be solid.”

(On bench tempo) “I thought Patrick Beverley played well. I thought Greg (Smith) rebounded well. Thomas (Robinson) gave us good energy. Guys off the bench give us good energy.”

(On Ray Williams' passing ) “Ray was probably my favorite college teammate. I came in as a rookie and ray took me under his wing. We played ball all the time. We were two guys that just loved to play. One thing that I found out about Ray was...I went down and graduated high school and I went to the University of Minnesota the day after I graduated high school and went to Williams arena. I went to work and the coach said everybody's gonna play at Williams arena like at 3:30 after work. I got there early so ray and I started playing one on one. Ray and I would be fouling the hell out of each other. We almost ended up in a fight the first day because I wouldn't give him game point and he kept on saying he got fouled and I said no you didn't and he and I played one on one and that day on we became really good friends. He was a guy that loved to play basketball and I loved to play basketball. So we would always challenge each other to a game of one on one. I was a skinny little kid then and ray was a big ol kid from New York City. He'd always tell me about New York City and I'd never been to New York City. I never knew where it was. A couple of times we'd play, a couple of guys would rough me up. I'd never forget ray went up and grabbed a guy, back then you had jewelry and he grabbed a guy by the neck and he twisted it really hard and he goes “Before you mess with him, you gotta mess with me.” and here's Ray, 6'3 and I'm 6'10 and I said  “thank you Ray.” So yeah it's sad. He was a good guy. I really like Ray as a teammate. I was a teammate in Boston too. Those days in Minnesota, 1976, going down there in the summer playing with him and stuff. We were 24-3 that year and Ray was our point guard and we just had a group of guys that just played. I got a text message this morning that Ray had just passed. Good guy, I'm going to miss him.”

JEREMY LIN

(on Thomas Robinson) He was a beast. Tonight he got a little more extended minutes and he was able to show what he can do. Just being active on the defensive end.

(easy game to look past?) Yeah, tonight I thought we did a good job of not falling into the trap. I’m thankful we were able to come out and play solid defense. Defensively I thought we did a good job.

(on the week ahead) These next four are going to really test us. We’re going to play really, really good teams. This is going to be it. This could make or break it for us so we realize that.

(Playing against Cleveland’s defense) “We just tried to push, we felt like they did a great job. They are a good defensive team when they have chances to get to their spots and load and being in their weak side positions, but we really tried to push the ball and play before they were able to get set.”

CHANDLER PARSONS

It’s a sign of us maturing. I think a lot of teams would overlook something like this like the Heat did down 27, but we understand what’s at stake right now and how big games like this are. It would have hurt to lose one of these so it was big.

(on defensive rebounding) I think we’re good. I think it’s all effort. I think our defense can be much better and I think once everyone buys in every single play and stops having letdowns and mental breakdowns – that’s what hurts us. We’re all talented and everyone here has the potential to play defense. I think once we’re bought in to not worrying about offense at all and continuing to focus 100 percent on defense we’ll be fine.

I think it starts with Omer. He’s been unbelievable all year long. Obviously I have some size at the three-spot, Jeremy is big for a point guard, so there’s no reason why we shouldn’t outrebound teams every night.

(looking forward to week ahead?) Yeah, for sure. We could see some of these teams coming up with Memphis and the Clippers … I think it will be a great test for us because we haven’t played them in a long time. I feel like we’ve gotten a lot better and I feel like it’s a big test for us to see where we stand with the elite teams.

(On the solid team win) “We've got to come out here and with what's at stake, every game is huge for us. I thought we came out here and our second unit gave us huge energy, never missed a beat with them. We played great defense. Early on, they (Cavaliers) were hitting some tough shots but I thought overall we executed our offense, we got to the hole, we took open shots and we really locked down defensively.”

(On the importance of the Rockets maintaining their lead in the third quarter and not giving up the lead) “That was huge. We've had tendencies of getting big leads and then letting them come back in. I thought it was big to keep our foot on the gas pedal and not look back and not let them keep climbing and give them any hope. I thought we closed the game out in the third quarter and allowed us to get some rest.”

THOMAS ROBINSON

(On his effort to try and improve ) “I feel like I need to work harder. I know that whatever I'm doing now, I've just got to take it up another notch. So hopefully my rebounding and other things come in to play once it's time to make the playoff run.”

JAMES HARDEN

(On how the Rockets were successful tonight) “It was a total team effort tonight. Guys came out and stuck with the game plan, came out and made shots and defensively got after it. We got off to a good lead.”

(On the Rockets defensive effort) “The entire defensive mind set was amazing tonight, from controlling the paint to closing out to their shooters, to making them drive, to everybody communicating on the defensive end. It was probably one of our best performances we've had on the defensive end all year.”

PATRICK BEVERLEY

(On the importance of the win) “I thought this game was important to start to build some momentum. We have a tough schedule coming up ahead of us. We have four good teams starting with San Antonio, so that was important to get out of the gates running. Being able to jump on this team and for our starters to be able to get some rest today.”

(On the play of the second unit) “This is a long season, everybody has their ups and downs, but it’s up to the second unit to keep pushing it and keep attacking and stay aggressive,  kind of sustain the lead or help build a lead so our starters can get some rest. Like Chandler (Parsons) or O (Omer Asik) or Jeremy (Lin) and James (Harden), we like to even things out. We compete in practice everyday, it makes it easier for us, the second unit, in the game so we just try to go out there and provide a spark and try to stay aggressive defensively.”

CLEVELAND CAVALIERS COACH BYRON SCOTT

(On his teams play) “As I told our guys it was the first game in a long time that I saw us being very disconnected on both ends of the floor. Even though the first quarter was close, it started in the first quarter. We just made some shots in the first quarter, from that point on, I just thought we were disconnected and our guys were trying to get theirs on the offensive end, but defensively we were disconnected, not communicating and it was just one of those nights that we were just individuals out there, not a team.

(On their defense) “You have to be a little more aggressive defensively against these guys (Houston0 I think if you are on your heels you are allowing them to get what they want and they are going to get to the basket and then get wide open threes. We didn’t take away anything from them. We just seemed like we were on our heels waiting to see what they were going to do. We came out nonchalant and once Houston started making shots, we went the other way instead of relaxing and get a bucket at a time. We came down and were trying to get six points on one play and that just doesn’t happen.

TYLER ZELLER

(On the post play against Omer Asik) “The biggest thing we struggled with was how well they spaced the floor and they have three or four shooters around him (Omer Asik) its really one on one down there with him and its difficult. We were trying to help out and it was creating a lot of different problems for us.”

(On the Rockets) “James Harden is a fantastic player in this league and he creates a lot. We really struggled trying to contain him and then their other shooters with the spacing they have. Once Houston gets you scrambling, they do a great job in getting to the basket and creating either layups or 3-pointers.”

LUKE WALTON

(On Cleveland’s play) “It was a tough one for us tonight. Obviously the Miami game was an emotional let down for us not being able to hold on. We are already a little short handed with injuries. We came in and I thought we were ready to go, but that is a very potent team over there. They are playing for playoff seeding and they score a lot of points. They played harder then us tonight. That’s not acceptable, but that’s what happened. Because of that they had a blow out win”

(On the Rockets) “They play a fun style of basketball, up and down. They’ve got 3-point shooters, they can go small and space the floor, and you really have to be locked in to beat a team like that especially when they are hitting their threes. It’s similar to the way the Sun used to play back when Steve Nash was there. If you try to get in an up and down game, you are going to be in for a long night. You have to be more disciplined and turn it into more of a half court game and we weren’t able to do that. They got it away from us.”

TRISTAN THOMPSON

(On Cavaliers inside play) “Houston made a run, they made shots, offensive rebounds. They got rebounds that created second chance opportunities for (James) Harden, (Chandler) Parsons, and (Jeremy) Lin. They really kicked our ass in the second quarter.”

(On the Rockets) “They can get up and down the court and they can score. Their threats are really on the perimeter, so that makes them very dangerous. (James) Harden who is an all star and (Jeremy) Lin who can score and (Chandler) Parsons who can do a little bit of everything and is like their glue guy. They are very exciting to watch and they are pretty tough to guard.”

NOTES

The Rockets ran off with a 116-78 (+38) triumph over the Cavaliers tonight. Houston currently owns a home winning streak of six straight games over Cleveland (12/2/06-3/22/13). The last 10 wins by the Rockets at Toyota Center have now come by an average margin of 19.2 points.

Houston held Cleveland to opponent season lows in points (78), field goal percentage (.360, 31-86 FG) and assists (14, tied). The Rockets actually limited the Cavaliers to just 53 points over the final three quarters of play. Cleveland also had no player with more than two assists on the night.

The Rockets took the battle of the boards by a 54-32 (+22) count tonight, giving Houston seven 50-plus rebounding games on the season (Rockets record: 5-2). In the last two-game season series with Cleveland in 2010-11, Houston outrebounded the Cavaliers by 48-33 (+15) vs. Cleveland (12/11/10) and by 57-37 (+20) at Cleveland (2/23/11).

The Houston bench brigade registered a combined 56 points tonight. It was the fifth time this season the Rockets reserves have gone for 50-plus points in game (Rockets record: 5-0).

The Rockets scored 58 first-half points on 22-of-40 (.550) shooting tonight, going on to make 44-of-77 (.571) shots overall on the night. Houston was also 20-of-38 (.526) from the field in the opening half last game vs. Utah (3/20/13).

Houston, which entered tonight’s game fourth in the NBA in points in the paint, outscored Cleveland by a 56-24 (+32) margin in the paint.

James Harden led all scorers with 20 points (5-9 FG, 3-5 3FG, 7-9 FT) tonight, giving him 57 20-point games on the season.

Omer Asik posted 13 points (6-8 FG) and 11 boards tonight, which was his first double-double since a 12-point, 15-rebound outing at Dallas (3/6/13). Asik has now recorded 29 double-doubles on the season.

Thomas Robinson topped the Rockets bench players with a career-best 15 points (6-7 FG), six rebounds, a career-high-tying three steals and two blocked shots tonight. His previous high in scoring was 12 points done four times.

Patrick Beverley added 11 points (4-7 FG, 2-2 FT), five assists, four rebounds, one steal and one blocked shot tonight. It marked his fifth double-digit scoring game of the season.

Greg Smith led the Rockets with a career-high 13 boards tonight. It marked his fourth double-digit rebounding game of the season: 10 rebounds at Dallas (1/16/13), 11 boards at Cleveland (1/5/13) and 12 rebounds vs. Phoenix (3/13/13).

Shaun Livingston topped Cleveland with 14 points (5-10 FG, 4-5 FT), two assists and two steals tonight. Livingston has now scored in double figures in eight of his nine starts with the Cavaliers.

Wayne Ellington chipped in with 13 points (6-13 FG) tonight. Ellington came into tonight’s outing with at least 20 points in two of his prior three games.