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Wednesday March 2, 2011 4:54 AM

Rockets Win Streak Reaches Five

Houston's offense goes into overdrive as team torches Blazers 103-87

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com

PORTLAND - Chuck Hayes sat in front of his locker sporting a wry smile, trying to choose his words carefully.

Mere moments earlier, he had been asked how he felt about his team’s strategy Tuesday night to double-team LaMarcus Aldridge; a plan, it should be noted, that limited Portland’s beastly power forward to a measly 14 points and 3 rebounds, all while forcing him into 4 turnovers during Houston’s 103-87 route of the Trailblazers.

Now know this about the Chuckwagon: As one of the NBA’s foremost practitioners of interior defense, Hayes takes immense pride in handling his man one-on-one. He disdains receiving double-team help and abhors the mere suggestion that he might require any sort of assistance on the defensive end.

But even Hayes had to admit, however begrudgingly, that the Rockets’ game plan was a master stroke, a strategy that, when perfectly paired with the club’s high octane offense, allowed Houston to deliver a thorough dismantling of the Blazers before their home crowd, elevating the Rockets back to the .500 mark for the first time in two months, while catapulting the club to its fifth straight win.

“It’s alright,” deadpanned Hayes, when asked for his feelings regarding the help that came his way Tuesday night. “I’d much rather not have the double-team but, hey, Coach had a game plan and we stuck to it. That’s what they do: they do their scouting report, they knew [Aldridge] is a bad passer off the dribble and the double-team – that’s how teams have beat them – so we tried it and we won.”

The victory marked the Rockets’ second straight impressive road win over one of the teams they’re trying to track down in their quest to squeeze into the Conference’s typically crowded playoff picture. And though sluggish starts had been one of the few sources of frustration during the team’s recent stretch of otherwise strong play, the Rockets had no such issues at the Rose Garden Tuesday night.

Houston scorched the nets right from the opening tip, shooting 68.4 percent from the field in the opening quarter, with Luis Scola, showing little to no adverse effects from a sprained right knee suffered two nights earlier in New Orleans, leading the way by hitting all five of his shots in the first period of play. And though the Rockets cooled off somewhat in the second quarter, they still managed to take a 53-42 lead into the break when Kyle Lowry, who’s quickly become this club’s king of the buzzer beaters, coaxed in a jumper just before the halftime horn sounded.

“I think we’re playing with a sense of urgency every single possession,” said Lowry, who was sensational throughout, racking up team-highs in both points (21 – tied with Scola) and assists (11). “Guys are stepping up and we know what we’re going to do. We have confidence in each other and we know exactly what we want to do and how we’re going to do it, and that’s big for us.”

The club’s burgeoning confidence and subsequent on-court connection continued to shine in the second half, too, as the Rockets reverted to their red-hot shooting ways the moment the action resumed. The Blazers simply had no answer for Houston’s superior ball movement as the Rockets routinely picked apart Portland’s futile attempts at defense.

Houston feasted on a bevy of layups and dunks off perfectly timed passes and cuts, resulting in several eye-popping statistics which revealed the full extent of the Rockets’ domination. To wit: Houston scored a whopping 52 points in the paint Tuesday night, after tallying just 58 over the course of their previous two meetings with Portland combined. Furthermore, the Rockets connected on a ridiculous 66.7 percent of their 2-point field goals on the evening – a testament not only to their hot shooting, but to their patience and precision within the offensive scheme as well.

“You’ve got to use your big people and you’ve got to trust each other,” Rockets Head Coach Rick Adelman explained. “If we move the ball and get an advantage, you’ve got to trust that your teammates are going to be there. You don’t always have to run pick and roll; you can pass and cut – those are things we talk about.

“But it takes time for guys to realize that… and the guy who really gets it is Luis because he’s going to be open. They’re going to try to help and he’s the guy who’s going to be open and he made a lot of shots tonight – he was 10-for-11 from the floor. So if we play that way, we’re really hard to guard. The starting group really understands it.”

That much is plain to see as the Rockets’ starting five has quietly emerged as one of the NBA’s most effective groups. The club’s overall offense, too, has entrenched itself as a true league force no matter who lines up on the opposing side.

But it is the recent emergence of the team’s defensive capability that might be the most noteworthy takeaway from the team’s huge road wins over New Orleans and Portland. If Sunday night’s victory over the Hornets was about the impact of all-out effort and sheer force of will on that end of the floor, then Tuesday’s triumph demonstrated the importance of trusting the scheme. The Rockets’ coaching staff devised the perfect plan for undermining Portland’s Aldridge-based attack and the results spoke volumes, as a player who averaged 27.8 points and 9.3 rebounds during the month of February was rendered a non-factor throughout.

So… Still slightly offended that your team offered to help with the occasional double-team, Chuck?

“Nope,” he said with a hearty laugh. “Because if you look at the box score it makes it look like I only allowed him to hit five shots.”

There you go. Further proof that when the team wins, everybody looks good. And right now, there’s no denying the fact that the red-hot Rockets are looking mighty fine.

QUOTES

RICK ADELMAN

Just a great win for us. I thought our guys played solid every quarter. (Portland) went to a zone, they tried trapping us, and we did a nice job of moving the ball and keeping them at bay and we really followed our defensive plan. I thought this was one of the best road wins we’ve had all year.

(attacking Portland’s interior defense): We’re always trying to get to the basket. We feel if we move the ball and move people we’re very hard to guard. It was just one of those games where if the ball hops and the ball moves and the players move, you’re going to have an advantage, and that’s what we try to do.

(gameplan against Aldridge): We doubled him from the very start. We were not going to let him go one-on-one and we did not want to get Chuck in foul trouble. We were going to make somebody else beat us. Early in the game I didn’t think we did a good job, but as the game went on we did a nice job of filling in on the guy who came off the double. Then the last part of the game we were going to turn Chuck loose on (Aldridge) and make him make plays. Our guys are very active and he’s a very, very tough cover. He tries to get to the basket and get to the line and we wanted to be sure that we made somebody else shoot the ball.

(executing offense in the half court): You’ve got to use your big people and you’ve got to trust each other. A lot of times we start going one-on-one and that’s not who we are. If we move the ball and get an advantage, you’ve got to trust that your teammates are going to be there. You don’t always have to run pick and roll; you can pass and cut – those are things we talk about. But it takes time for guys to realize that and everybody’s going to get it, and the guy who really gets it is Luis because he’s going to be open. They’re going to try to help and he’s the guy who’s going to be open and he made a lot of shots tonight. If we play that way, we’re really hard to guard. The starting group really understands it; the bench still struggles some with that.

(defense getting there?): It was very good tonight. We wanted to keep them off the line and guard individuals well, and I think for the most part we did that. I think it just proves that – again, it’s about trust – if we follow the game plan we’ll do fine.

KYLE LOWRY

I think we’re playing with a sense of urgency every single possession. Guys are stepping up and we know what we’re going to do. We have confidence in each other and we know exactly what we want to do and how we’re going to do it, and that’s big for us.

CHUCK HAYES

(This win) means a lot. Twenty more games left in the season, we have to try to find a way to be a threat to these other teams that are looking back at us in the standings and hopefully we can put a little pressure on people.

(double-teaming Aldridge): It’s alright (laughs). I’d much rather not have the double-team, but Coach had a game plan and we stuck to it. That’s what they do: they do their scouting report, they knew he’s a bad passer off the dribble and the double-team – that’s how teams have beat them – so we tried it and we won.

(does it detract from the experience, having double-team defensive help?): Nope, because if you look at the box score it makes it look like I only allowed him to hit five shots. (laughs)

LUIS SCOLA

It’s always the point of the season where things start to come more naturally. For some reason we weren’t able to get to that point until now, but we are at that point now and we have to make a run – we have to make it last as much as we can. We’ve got a good situation happening here and we have to keep going. We put ourselves in a situation where we don’t have any margin for error, so now we have to make this last as long as we can.

We’ve got a good chance. We play three teams below .500 over the next three games, so we have a good chance. If we play this way anything’s possible. If we play the way we were before, then we’re going to struggle.

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