News And Notes: Bouncing Back
Rockets redouble efforts in wake of recent poor performances
HOUSTON - One day after suffering through a rather miserable 36-hour stretch that saw them succumb to a pair of blowout defeats at the hands of their in-state rivals, the Rockets returned to the practice court Tuesday in order to refocus and renew their efforts to ensure they’re regular season ready in time for their Halloween night opener in Detroit.
To a man, every member of the club from the coaching staff to the players copped to the unacceptable standard set during losses to San Antonio and Dallas, especially as it pertained to the team’s effort on the defensive end. Whereas the uber-experienced Spurs took advantage of the Rockets’ youth by methodically picking them apart, Dallas inflicted much of its damage by exploiting Houston’s non-existent transition defense, repeatedly beating the Rockets down the floor with a bevy of odd-man breaks.
Are youth and inexperience the primary culprits? They are factors to be sure. But given that the Mavericks’ decisive 20-0 run Monday night occurred against four-fifths of Houston’s starting lineup (Jeremy Lin had the night off), Chandler Parsons wasn’t about to use age or a lack of familiarity as an excuse.
“I’m sure that plays a role but I’m not going to sit here and make excuses because of our age,” he said. “We’re still professional basketball players. I don’t think that’s the reason. I think we just have to come together as a team regardless of how old we are or how long we’ve been playing with each other. We know how to get back in transition, we know how to communicate, so it’s just all things we need to work on.
“I think our effort has been there; we have guys that have been working really hard. But I just think some of the shots we’re taking are basically turnovers. We’re taking bad shots which lead to easy fast breaks. So we have to eliminate bad shots, run our offense and then we’ve got to know who’s getting back and who’s going after the boards.”
Head Coach Kevin McHale, meanwhile, felt the primary issue which dragged his team down the night before was mostly one of focus.
“You can be bad because you don’t have experience,” he said. “But when you’re bad on stuff that we’ve worked on over and over again, you’re just not concentrating, so I’m more concerned that we had a lousy concentration level last night for whatever reason.”
The good news: After Wednesday’s matchup with the Memphis Grizzlies, the Rockets won’t play another preseason game for a week, providing them plenty of time on the practice court to fine-tune their familiarity within the system and with each other. That stretch will effectively offer Houston a second training camp of sorts, something that should prove invaluable to a team still very much in search of its on-court identity.
Anyone familiar with the Jeremy Lin story should at this point be well aware that very little middle ground exists when it comes to the public’s perception of what he does both on and off the court. Such is the fate of life as an international phenomenon. His highs and lows, his victories and defeats, evoke passionate responses from both sides, so it should come as little surprise that even Lin’s initial three-game sample size from this preseason is being analyzed with the sort of zeal typically reserved for archeologists poring over the Dead Sea scrolls.
And when the 24-year-old point guard followed up a pair of solid performances with a clunker against the Spurs Sunday afternoon in which he shot just 1-10 from the field and recorded only a single assist, critics came out of the woodwork en masse, questioning everything from Lin’s recovery from offseason knee surgery to his fit in McHale’s point guard friendly offense.
Once the hyperbole and overreaction are put aside, however, it should be clear that the truth about Lin is not dramatically different at this point than it is about the team as a whole. After just two weeks of training camp and preseason play, there are very few bold proclamations that can be made with any amount of absolute certainty. Freaking out about Lin’s last game, or the Rockets past two games for that matter, is no more wise than it would have been to allow expectations to balloon out of proportion following Houston’s 2-0 start to the preseason. The canvas that serves as Lin’s and the Rockets’ 2012-13 season has seen little more than a brush stroke or two applied at this point; each is a work in progress, something Lin summed up perfectly with a quote that could have just as easily applied to his team as it does to himself.
“I think anytime you don’t play as well as you’re capable of it’s frustrating,” he said after being asked to describe his feelings in the days following the San Antonio loss. “But I have to remember it’s a process. It’s not going to just happen overnight for me. I’m going to have to build, build step by step and brick by brick. As long as I get an upward progression of improvement over time I’ll be happy.”
And as for the subject of his physical well being, Lin says he feels as if he’s still on track to achieve his goal of being 100 percent in time for the Rockets’ season opener against Detroit. “I’m feeling pretty good right now,” he said. “After tomorrow’s game we have a week off and I’ll be just fine from here on out.”
One day after making his preseason debut, Royce White remained steadfast in the self-assessment of his play. He described it as “pretty bad” and wasn’t pleased with anything outside of his conditioning. That said, even while experiencing the standard rookie jitters, White did show flashes of his playmaking potential in the second half of Monday’s game.
Like nearly all first-year players, one of White’s biggest challenges will come in the form of finding a way to impact the game when he doesn’t have the ball in his hands. White was Mr. Everything at Iowa State, leading the team in every major statistical category, so he, like most rookies, will be forced to adjust from being the man in college to simply being another cog in the wheel, at least initially, as a pro. That means diligently defending, moving off the ball and making himself a menace on the boards. With that in mind, assistant coach Kelvin Sampson’s words from last month seem particularly prescient.
“Royce, when the ball is in his hands it is happy birthday, Fourth of July and Merry Christmas all rolled into one,” Sampson said during this Q&A. “Now when the ball is not in his hands, where is he – is he in the witness protection program – I cant even find Royce sometimes when he doesn’t have the ball, so he’s got to learn to play without the ball at a high level.”
Summer league watchers might recall White experiencing something similar in Vegas, where White struggled to make his presence felt early on. It was then that Sampson challenged him to go out and grab double-digit rebounds per game. White rose to the occasion and, not coincidentally, the rookie soon began regularly wowing the crowd with his playmaking prowess on the break – a skill Rockets fans got a brief glimpse at Monday night once White began to assert himself a little on the defensive glass.
“I’m definitely an issue (for opponents to deal with) if I get the rebound,” he said following Tuesday’s practice. “But one of the things that’s a challenge is guys are so long. Like Brandan Wright, trying to box him out too long, you can’t really do it because at the end of the day he can still go up over you and grab the ball. So yeah, getting that confidence by going and getting the ball and forgetting everything else (is positive), but you’ve got guys out there like Vince (Carter) and Shawn Marion … you’re thinking, ‘I’ve got to get in there and box them out’ because they’re so athletic. But I’ll get back to being confident and just going up and getting it.”