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Tuesday March 8, 2011 1:54 AM

Rockets Run Roughshod Over Kings

Houston climbs over .500 mark for first time this season after 123-101 win

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com

HOUSTON - The potential reasons for the Rockets’ sudden resurgence range from the rational to the absurd.

But whatever the case may be, and no matter the stance taken, what can’t be argued is the end result: the Rockets are playing elite basketball right now – keep it up and they just might save their season.

The Rockets flexed their collective muscle once again Monday night, making the Sacramento Kings their latest victim while rolling to a 123-101 victory. The win elevated Houston above the .500 mark for the first time this season and is Houston’s seventh in the eight games it’s played following the All-Star break. Even more impressive, however, is the dominant fashion in which they’ve racked up those wins; the Rockets boast a robust point differential of +10.25 during that stretch, leaving little room for doubt that this team’s turnaround is very real indeed.

Kudos and credit for the club’s rapid rise to relevance deserve to be spread all around, but surely first in line for the plaudits should be Head Coach Rick Adelman, who moved into a tie with one-time mentor Dick Motta for 10th on the NBA’s all-time winningest coaches list. As he has ever since arriving in Houston four years ago, Adelman has shown an uncanny knack for getting the most out of the talent available to him, mixing patience and a calm, steady resolve with his undeniable basketball acumen to forge a team suddenly capable of scaling the seemingly insurmountable climb the Rockets must master in order to squeeze themselves into the Western Conference playoff picture.

True, it took these Rockets longer than expected to reach this point. That they needed nearly 60 games to do so may yet be their undoing when all is said and done. But the fact this team has even reached these heights is amazing in and of itself, especially after recalling the depths the club plumbed earlier this season.

To see them now, to see how far they’ve come is nothing short of extraordinary. Gone are the lulls which previously plagued this squad, seemingly always occurring at the worst possible time. Now the Rockets resemble Adelman’s whiteboard come to life, a model of precision basketball in which five players dissect opposing defenses with perfectly-timed cuts and passes, all while weaving a heavenly hoops tapestry that stands as an ode to a coach who belongs in the Hall of Fame sooner rather than later.

Adelman, of course, has no time for personal accolades, preferring instead to dole out credit to his players. Monday night he made sure to mention Kyle Lowry, whose season-long flirtation with a triple double was once again denied, this time because his team had no need of his services in the fourth quarter since the game was well in hand by then. Nonetheless, Lowry still managed to stuff the stat sheet with 19 points, 8 assists and 7 rebounds in just 29 minutes of play. He is the engine that powers the Rockets’ high-octane attack and it’s no coincidence that Houston’s offense has found yet another gear during a 5-game stretch that’s seen Lowry average 20 points, 7.6 assists and 3.4 3s made per game, all while shooting .521 from the field and .447 from beyond the arc.

Courtney Lee and Chase Budinger, meanwhile, have been similarly scorching, adding a potent mix of deadeye shooting and explosive athleticism from the wings to help supplement the consistent scoring prowess of Luis Scola and Kevin Martin. Throw in the defensive brilliance of Chuck Hayes, veteran prowess of Brad Miller and relentless tenacity of Goran Dragic and suddenly Adelman has an 8-man rotation filled with players who know their roles, know what the team wants to run and precisely how to run it. And though defense will never be this particular Rockets team’s strong suit, it is actually improving and, as the club showed Monday night, with Houston’s offense operating at such an elite level, sometimes all this team needs is a quarter’s worth of solid D to bring home a W.

So while it’s fair to wonder what exactly prompted such a sudden reversal of fortune, perhaps it’s even more important to simply enjoy the fact that one has taken place at all. The last 17 games of the regular season just got a whole lot more interesting. Yes, the Rockets will have to conjure something special in order to worm their way into the playoffs. But they seem, at long last, to have the ability to do so.

And 1s: Luis Scola was forced to leave Monday’s game early with a left knee injury. He will be reevaluated Tuesday and is currently listed as day-to-day.

QUOTES

RICK ADELMAN

We were really good offensively the whole game and got better defensively as the game went on. Chuck did a nice job on Cousins in the second half. It was a win we had to get… I’m just proud of the way our guys played. We’ve been playing very well on the road and had another solid game tonight.

I think we’re much better at understanding offensively how to keep scoring and not have the lulls we’ve had. I give Kyle Lowry a lot of credit there. I think since we made the trade, too, Chase and Courtney have both played really well and we’ve had a nice rotation with those two guys and Kevin, and I think we’ve been able to learn about ourselves. It doesn’t seem like it sometimes, but we’re playing better defensively and we’re understanding what we have to do because we’re going to score points – it’s just a matter of are we going to get enough stops.

(on what tying Dick Motta for 10th in all-time wins means to him):

“It takes me back. The names that are up there, I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would be up with those types of wins. You look back in this league, I had three really great opportunities that a lot of guys don’t get. You get good players, talented players and good teams, wins are going to rack up. You have got to get good situations and I have been fortunate in that. The last two years with these guys have really been special. They have had all the injuries and we just keep battling. First time we got over .500 this year has been a long time coming. It means a lot because you look at all the names up there and those are some of the best coaches in the league. I’m just thankful that I have had the situations that I have had.”

COURTNEY LEE

It’s very important that we come out and compete and close out games like this. We kind of got off to a slow start but then we picked it up. It’s very important that we get these wins and continue to make this playoff push.

Everybody is playing together and everybody is having fun. When we get a big lead like this and you see everybody is playing hard, that’s what it’s about. We’re trying to make this playoff push and that’s what we’re going to have to do is continue to play together and have fun out there.

KEVIN MARTIN

On finally getting over .500

“We had a lot of opportunities this year to do that. That’s not really our goal right now. Our goal is to keep this post all-star break record going. We have our team right now, and we have a big one tomorrow. So we are just going to continue to keep playing hard.”

KINGS HEAD COACH PAUL WESTPHAL

“Well I thought the key stretch was in the second quarter when we went to our bench. We just couldn’t keep or momentum that we had going and it seemed like that was the trend as the game went on too. You’ve got to guard somebody; you can’t just give up 30-point quarters every quarter and expect to win games. Our defense was not good enough really ever to give us a chance to hang around in the game because if you have the inevitable lulls offensively then all of a sudden it’s a double-digit deficit. Defense was not good enough tonight. The fact that they get 27 free throws and we get 11 is a hard mountain to climb as well. So they were just deeper and more effective than we were all night.”

On DeMarcus Cousins:
“We’ll find out – we’ll see. I just came from the game. I haven’t gotten any medical reports yet. But he was able to continue.”

On Marcus Thornton:
“I’m not worried at all about Tyreke (Evans, once he returns) and Marcus meshing together. I think they will be a good combination. Marcus is a good player. He’s showing it at every game. He’s somebody that can really help us get to where we want to go.”

On the third quarter:
“I don’t think they really did anything different. I think DeMarcus might have run out of gas a little bit, I think that he might have gotten a little frustrated. I think that they continued to score every time down the floor and it disrupted our flow. All those things contributed to the way the second half went. But I don’t think they really used a different strategy on (DeMarcus).”

On defensive turnovers:
“They really punished us in transition, either off turnovers or just pushing it with us not getting back well enough. They just kind of ran it down our throats and they wore us down. We had three or four possessions where there were turnovers and then all of a sudden they opened up a big lead. We couldn’t get back in the game.”

On Francisco Garcia starting:
“I think Cisco was the starter when he got injured. I think we played our best basketball of the year with him starting and I anticipate he’ll keep starting.”

On the upcoming game against Orlando:
“I’m sure that they remember that game and they’ll come out with all guns a blazing. I see that Dwight Howard got suspended for a game and sat out tonight but he’ll be back in time for our game, don’t worry.”

OMRI CASSPI

Third quarter…
“A lot of things, I don’t think it was just the third quarter. They scored 65 points in the first half and 29 points in the first quarter. It seemed like they were making every shot. They were sharing the ball on offense. It’s kind of weird because we’re playing in the same place, exactly the same place. We’re running the same possessions on offense and one team is playing together and passing to each other and the blame is on us as players. There are no differences in the plays, we just have to pass to each other and play together.”

Rockets getting to the free throw line…
“They have Kevin (Martin) and you guys know Kevin. He gets to the line a lot. It’s hard to explain. They just used their offense well and Kevin got to the line like he usually does. When Kevin gets to the line 10 times, that’s 10 extra (points) that you can get every game. (Kevin Martin was 8-of-8 from the line against the Kings). They make shots and played together.”

DeMARCUS COUSINS

Seriousness of injury…
“It’s nothing serious. It could have been. I’m lucky enough that is wasn’t anything serious. (KingsTV broadcaster) Grant Napear told me that on the replay it looked pretty bad. It fell like it was about to snap. I just so happened to jump up.”

Third quarter…
“We have the tendency to do that when the lead gets out of hand or they make a run. We have a tendency to panic and just try to do things on our own. We are not going to get back into the game that way and we’re not going to win games that way. We have to play the whole game together. Play team ball the whole game. Hopefully we can change things around.”

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