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Thursday January 5, 2012 3:51 AM

Clips Give Rockets Rude Welcome To Lob City

Rockets remain winless on the road following 117-89 defeat

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com




LOS ANGELES - There are plenty of reasons to question the validity of the “defense wins championships” maxim that so saturates the sports world. It’s doubtful you’d find anyone who would dare dismiss its overall importance, but is defense truly more important than being able to put points on the board? Debatable.

What’s not debatable, however, is that any team aspiring to be great has to be able to do at least a respectable job on the defensive end. And after back-to-back games in Los Angeles against the Lakers and Clippers, the Rockets have discovered just how far they still have to go in that area.

For starters, they must put forth maximum effort; something that was noticeably absent during Wednesday’s 117-89 drubbing at the hands of the Clippers. Surprising, too, because even on their off nights, Houston’s players rarely succumb due to lack of effort. This is a blue collar, hard-working team not known for taking time off.

But something seemed seriously amiss at Staples Center right from the start as the Rockets’ defense, roughed up by the Lakers the night before, dipped even more dramatically 24 hours later. You didn’t need to have the eyes of a scout or the number-crunching ability of a data specialist to divine the defensive deficiencies Houston displayed. The Rockets allowed the Clippers the privilege of open passage into the paint any time they so desired and LA’s players were only too happy to accept that invitation – over and over and over again.

The gory details: the Clippers put up 41 points in the first quarter, 40 points in the paint by halftime and flirted with 70 percent shooting from the field for the game through much of the third quarter. The result of which was Lob-City-Palooza as Blake Griffin and Chris Paul pandered to the crowd while the Rockets played the part of both the primary enablers and unwitting witnesses.

To be sure, every team has its share of duds throughout the course of a year and clubs are especially prone to them on the back end of a back-to-back – as the Rockets were – and against very good offensive teams – as the Clippers are. But Houston showed itself capable of far better efforts on the defensive end against playoff-caliber clubs like San Antonio and Atlanta less than a week ago – and the Hawks matchup was the Rockets’ third game in as many nights. Such excuses, in other words, only go so far. And it should be pointed out that not a single member of the team uttered anything even remotely resembling an excuse after the game (just check out the quotes below). Head Coach Kevin McHale called the effort “unacceptable” and you couldn’t find a single dissenting opinion among the players in the very subdued postgame locker room.

The Rockets’ defense is a work in progress – that’s not a secret. It needs Samuel Dalembert to get fully acclimated to his new team – and his new team to him. It needs Patrick Patterson to get up to speed after missing the start of the season due to injury. It needs a healthy Courtney Lee. It needs a total buy-in from every player on the roster. But perhaps most of all, it needs time.

Team defense is about trust; it’s about five players working with one mind, knowing where to be, when to rotate and how certain plays, players and tendencies must be treated. Such synergy does not develop overnight. There will be growing pains along the way. So chalk this one up as one of those. Because it most definitely hurt.

Lastly, it’s worth remembering that the Rockets’ defense is not this bad, just as it was clearly not quite as good as it looked last week against San Antonio. The truth almost always lies somewhere in between and the safe bet is that that’s the case here, too. But however you slice it, the lesson at large is clear: Houston’s defense simply must improve; because while defense doesn’t win championships on its own, you most certainly can’t win titles without it.

QUOTES

KEVIN MCHALE

Re: Reasons for loss: “We didn’t play hard. We had no resistance defensively. We didn’t put up any fight at all tonight. I have no idea. We had bad effort tonight right from the start. I think they had 40 points in the first half in the paint. You can’t do that.”

Re: Tonight’s play: “We’ve got to go out there and play. We didn’t go out to compete. We didn’t do anything that even gave us a chance to be in the game. I mean, they had a 40-point first quarter. It started right from there. We didn’t come out. We didn’t execute anything we were in. We didn’t do anything. We had guys who just went off on their own and we tend to start rushing our offense when things don’t go well defensively and it just snowballs. Bottom line is, they dominated us that first half; they dominated the paint. They did whatever they wanted in there and Chris Paul just dribbled wherever he wanted. Hell, they shot 67 percent in the first half. There’s nothing you can say besides that’s just unacceptable. That’s ridiculous.”

Re: What was said in the locker room afterwards: It’s up to them. We can have that kind of effort and you’re going to have that kind of result. It’s as simple as that.

KYLE LOWRY

Re: Play of Rockets: “We missed some shots and they capitalized on every opportunity. We made mistakes offensively and defensively. It’s just something we gotta figure out .We can’t have nights like this. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. It was a terrible day for us all around.”

LUIS SCOLA

Re: Rockets’ Performance: “We struggled with everything today. We just weren’t ready to play. I (can’t) explain it, it just wasn’t there. This is what happens when you don’t have it and you’re not ready to play. Every once in a while this happens to every team. What you do about next game shows what kind of team you are. We just weren’t ready to play. I don’t know how to explain it. It just wasn’t there. This is what happens when you don’t play hard.”

CLIPPERS HEAD COACH VINNY DEL NEGRO

Re: Opening Statement
“We jumped on them early in the first quarter. We were shooting the ball very well and got some easy baskets. I thought we moved the ball well tonight, we had thirty assists and only seven turnovers. But we did not shoot from the line well and our close outs and rotations defensively were not very sharp.”

Re: On Chris Paul being less unselfish: “It goes for anybody. If you have good shots, we want you to shoot them. Chris was able to get going early on and got us off to a great start in the first quarter.”

Re: On getting Chauncey Billups back: “He gives us more balance and depth. It also gives us more energy with the guys coming off the bench with Mo [Williams] and Randy [Foye]. They did a great job for us tonight. They were very active not only offensively but defensively.”

Re: On scheduling and practice: “A lot has to do with scheduling. We did catch them on a good night, let’s be realistic about it. The more time we spend together the more we can work out the kinks and issues and get guys more familiar with foot position and how everyone works in different play-sets and options.”

CHAUNCEY BILLUPS

Re: On getting extra practice days: “Practices are important with new pieces on the team, very important for the new guys. It’s going to be a very long season so we are very fortunate to get a lot of practice time that no other team really has. Our schedule has been very easy in terms of having days off so we have to take advantage of that.”

Re: Cohesiveness of the team: “We looked a little more in sync out there. Defensively, we were talking a lot more, things that we have been doing the last two days at practice. We knew this team played a tough game last night so we wanted to jump on them early.”

Re: On his health and minutes tonight: “I feel fine. I was going to play as long as needed to get the win. I felt good. If I was feeling any other way I would let them know.”

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