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Monday April 9, 2012 1:47 AM

Rockets Keep Rolling, Crush Kings


Lowry returns as Houston rides red-hot first half to 104-87 win over Sacramento

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com




SACRAMENTO, CA - Kyle Lowry came back and the Rockets kept rolling on the road.

With their point guard returning to the rotation after missing the team’s past 15 games due to a bacterial infection, Houston used a dominant first half to steamroll its way to a 104-87 win over the Sacramento Kings – the club’s third consecutive victory away from Toyota Center.

The Rockets set the tone from the outset, putting on a perfect demonstration of superior execution trumping raw, untamed talent. Houston got whatever it wanted offensively throughout much of the first half, slicing through the Kings’ feeble attempt at defense the way a child rummages through an Easter basket in search of all the best chocolate.

In fact, the Easter Bunny granted Courtney Lee a particularly delectable treat Sunday, as he found himself guarded by the defensively deficient Jimmer Fredette to begin the game. Lee wasted little time feasting on the rookie, scoring 17 of his game-high 25 points in the opening frame. He repeatedly torched his overmatched counterpart from all over the court, dropping in layups and raining down 3s with relative ease, finishing the first quarter having hit seven of his eight shots from the field. As a result, the Rockets rapidly built themselves a double-digit bulge; a lead that only increased during the second quarter as Houston continued to have its way with a Kings club that couldn’t muster much in the way of threatening opposition.

Even when the Rockets suffered through a prolonged dry spell in the third quarter, the Kings were hardly able to take advantage. After increasing their lead to 22, Houston’s shooters suddenly went cold, misfiring on 12 of their final 14 shots in the period. But the best Sacramento could do was trim its deficit to eight before the Rockets righted the ship in the fourth quarter and rapidly ran away from the Kings once again – this time for good.

The Rockets’ dominance was hardly a surprise; not after seeing the way they had handled themselves in massive road wins over the Bulls and Lakers earlier in the week. What most definitely raised eyebrows, however, was the return of Lowry, who just ten days earlier had openly wondered whether he would play another game this season. But after practicing with the team Thursday and Saturday, Lowry was unleashed against the Kings, showing shockingly few signs of rust despite having missed a month’s worth of games. The sixth-year point guard managed to rack up seven assists in a mere 18 minutes of action, proclaiming afterward that he felt fresh and rejuvenated.

“(It was) awesome,” said Lowry, when asked how it felt to be back on the floor. “I’m finding the game offensively, figuring out what spots to be in and what spots to take the right angles. I’m not as fast as I want to be but I’m getting back to it.

“I wouldn’t have believed (I’d be back this quickly). Things happened way fast. The training staff did a great job. I committed to trying to get back sooner than later. It wasn’t a break I wanted to take but I definitely feel good … it was definitely an unfortunate situation but I think it helped me in the long run.”

Lowry’s return to the lineup, coupled with Houston’s blowout win, lightened the load on Goran Dragic, who has had to shoulder the burden of playing heavy minutes during Lowry’s absence. Dragic played a much more reasonable 34 minutes Sunday night, scoring 15 points to pair with 9 assists while also sharing the floor with Lowry on multiple occasions – a combination Head Coach Kevin McHale had used to great effect earlier this season, and one he will likely lean on again as the Rockets prepare for a playoff berth that is appearing more certain by the day.

“I thought Kyle did a good job,” said McHale, when asked for his assessment of Lowry’s first game back. “I was pleasantly surprised with his wind. I was really excited that Goran was able to get some rest which is key for us. Moving forward, Goran is going to play long minutes so he needs to get some rest, so I thought that was really, really good.

“I told Kyle to just come in and do your thing; don’t worry about trying to do too much – just come back and ease back into it. That’s what we’re going to do, we’re going to ease him in. It’s been a long time off. The team’s kind of gathered a rhythm without him so now we’re going to have to get him back in but I think he understands that.

“I was impressed with his defense. He was back to having quick feet and quick hands. For a while there, before he got hurt, defensively I thought he was just getting tired and run down. So it’s good to see him back out there.”

QUOTES

KEVIN MCHALE

I thought Kyle did a good job. I was pleasantly surprised with his wind. I was really excited that Goran was able to get some rest which is key for us. Moving forward, Goran is going to play long minutes so he needs to get some rest, so I thought that was really, really good. But I thought Kyle was sharp with that ball. He was feeling his way offensively which is ok, but I thought defensively he was really active.

You hate to say it, but sometimes you get rejuvenated (after a long absence). He was full of juice out there defensively which is great because I think Goran is going through a little bit of that right now. Chasing point guards around playing long minutes, you get awful tired so it would be nice to split those minutes up and play them together some, too.

(how nice was it to be able to play Goran and Kyle together again?): It was real nice. I told Kyle to just come in and do your thing; don’t worry about trying to do too much – just come back and ease back into it. That’s what we’re going to do, we’re going to ease him in. It’s been a long time off. The team’s kind of gathered a rhythm without him so now we’re going to have to get him back in but I think he understands that.

Again, I was impressed with his defense. He was back to having quick feet and quick hands. For awhile there, before he got hurt, defensively I thought he was just getting tired and run down. So it’s good to see him back out there.

KYLE LOWRY

(How did it feel to be back?): Awesome. I felt fine. I was glad to be back out there. It was good to be out there helping my teammates.

(did you know you’d be back tonight?): I wanted to play the last game but Coach said no. Tonight he let me go out there so I wanted to play. I felt good. After the day of practice I felt great.

(ten days ago did you think you’d be playing this soon?): I wouldn’t have believed it. Things happened way fast. The training staff did a great job. I committed to trying to get back sooner than later.

I’m finding the game offensively, figuring out what spots to be in and what spots to take the right angles. I’m not as fast as I want to be but I’m getting back to it.

(feel rejuvenated?): Yeah. It wasn’t a break I wanted to take but I definitely feel good. I feel like the break helped me a little bit. It was definitely an unfortunate situation but I think it helped me in the long run.

COURTNEY LEE

I was able to get going early. I had a much shorter guy on me so I was able to get to my sweet spots and knock down shots.

Before the game, I thought Tyreke Evans and Francisco (Garcia) were going to start and when I saw that Jimmer (Fredette) was starting, I wanted the ball a little more. I think he hit a three, and I told him I couldn’t let him hit too many more of those, so I tried to take him out of that. When they went to the zone, we started falling for outside shots too much. They were able to get back into the game somewhat and they made a couple of big shots to get back, but we were able to settle down. We were able to get two wins on this road trip and we have Portland tomorrow, so hopefully we can go there and pick up a win as well. Then we go home and try to win a couple of games and try to get into the playoffs.”

On the return of Kyle Lowry: “I’m glad he’s back. We were able to pick up some nice wins while he was out (Houston won seven of 10 games). It just shows the depth on this team. Every player on this team can go out there and play and you never know when your number is going to be called. With Kyle out, we all had to step up even more so, and now that he’s back hopefully we can make a run. We’ve been moving the ball and playing the right way. Once we get to full speed, I think we can be very dangerous.”

KINGS COACH KEITH SMART

“It wasn’t a pretty Sunday afternoon. We didn’t have the energy to start the game off; we didn’t have what was necessary to win this game tonight. I did think our team played well enough to get this game down to eight points and manage it, but we didn’t have the juice that we needed for this game.”

On the lineup he used throughout the game: “That group got us to eight points, so I played those guys. They did a great job getting us back to a manageable number but of course, they finally ran out of gas. We’re short in numbers right now, but that’s how the whole NBA is right now.”

When asked why he never went back to the starting lineup: “I wanted to get back to that number, but I just didn’t feel like we were going to have that necessary energy. I played those guys who got us there, and you only get to do that three or four times in the course of the NBA season. This was one of those times.”

On the starters’ lack of running up and down the floor: “We haven’t been running in the last couple of games. We’re not running up and down the floor, we’re not making any easy plays. We’re trying to force feed this; this is something brand new for DeMarcus Cousins, he’s getting doubled teamed and he’s going to have to meet guys to make shots when he’s passing out of there. That’s started to get value there, when he’s getting double teamed a little bit. We didn’t have it tonight. Sometimes this happens. Unfortunately it happened to us in the little slump that we’re in right now.”

When asked what’s been causing the losses in these past few games: “I just think we’re over thinking the whole play. When you see a guy, right away you have to pass it. One second too late against a team that has a little bit of that hunger, can be bad. You have to get the ball delivered right away. We’re getting into spots on the floor where we can’t make the right pass. If you just make the simple, easy pass then we can take away some of our turnovers. Teams are packing it in on us; they’re packing the paint right now. We’re still trying to make passes, straight line passes without getting a deflection.”

On Marcus Thornton coming back and Jimmer Fredette’s performance in tonight’s game: “We’ll see. He doesn’t train today, he’ll do some training tomorrow and maybe this first game on the road trip he will play. Jimmer got in the game and had a chance to play a little bit, which is good for all of our guys right now. They get a chance to play because there are not enough bodies right now.”

Jimmer Fredette

Starting…
“We have some injuries right now. Guys are down. It’s a tough season. That’s what happens so you just have to step up and try to be ready. We just didn’t have a lot of energy tonight. It didn’t feel like so that’s something we have to work on and continue to get better at that and come bring it every single night so its kind of disappointing for us.”

Feeling fatigued…
“It felt pretty good so I wasn’t really too fatigued or anything. You always get that adrenaline rush and you just kind of play through it but I’m sure I’ll be a little tired tomorrow.”

Lack of energy…
“It’s just something we have to work on as a team. There’s been a lot of games recently, played a couple of back-to-backs and obviously we played a tough one in LA last night and came back and just didn’t have it tonight. Sometimes that’s what happens but we have to try and not do that (play without energy) as much as we can.

Working on energy…
“You just have to be ready to play. It’s more of a mental thing than a physical thing. Mentally you have to be prepared, all of us. We have to do a better job of getting ourselves ready in warm-ups and getting ourselves mentally prepared so we can start the game well and not get into lapses.”

Chuck Hayes

Drop-in offense…
“There’s really no excuse. The season is almost over, we’ve played 57 games. Everybody should know each other’s sweet shot or sweet spot, where they want the ball or the most effective so on and so forth. We’re still playing like it’s the beginning of the season. We should have this figured out by now.”

Frustration…
“The last two games kind of resemble the beginning of the season. When things get bad we show everybody that things go badly with our body language and emotions. We have to figure it out. Maybe because it was the second game of a back-to-back or a Sunday game. I don’t know. We hope to find the energy that we pretty much contained that past month or two. We got to go to Dallas and try to get a road win.”

Tyreke Evans

Getting back into the game…
“I thought we could. Anything is possible with the way we play. We showed that we could get back in the game. We just didn’t match their energy.”

Frustration…
“A little bit. We can’t worry about this game, it’s over with. We have another back-to-back coming up on the road so we have to prepare.”

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