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Wednesday March 28, 2012 0:37 AM

Running On Empty

Rockets falter in second half, fall 90-81 to Mavericks

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com




HOUSTON - The Rockets came into Tuesday’s game against the Dallas Mavericks with a point to prove and revenge on their mind. To a man, everyone in the Houston locker room desired payback for the heartbreaking overtime loss they suffered at the hands of the Mavericks Saturday night.

What they possessed in motivation, however, they seemed to severely lack in stamina. And after a brilliant first quarter that saw the Rockets race out to a 16-point lead, Houston faded badly the rest of the way, succumbing to Dallas by a final score of 90-81.

“I think we got a little bit tired,” admitted Houston Head Coach Kevin McHale after the game. “We played last night and had an overtime game and we just didn’t have the zip that we needed.”

Indeed, the Rockets simply could not find a way to sustain the success they enjoyed early on in Tuesday night’s game. Houston scorched the nets with its shooting in the opening stanza, draining its first three 3-point attempts during a 26-8 run that provided the Rockets with their largest margin of the night. That “zip” McHale referred to was evident in the way the ball was being whipped around offensively as Houston carved up Dallas’ typically stingy defense with ease. Luis Scola was an unstoppable force scoring 10 early points, while Goran Dragic showed no ill effects from a sprained right ankle, racking up 7 points, 3 assists, 2 rebounds and a pair of steals.

But as soon as the second quarter began, the vital, vibrant air seemed to dissipate from the Rockets’ balloon, and its big lead wheezed away accordingly. The jump shots Houston’s players had feasted on in the first quarter began to flatten and forget their mark. The quick, strong, assured cuts to the basket lost their bite. And with Dallas parading to the free throw line at the other end, the Rockets’ transition opportunities rapidly dried up as well.

By halftime, Houston found itself still very much alive, but with a lead that had shrunk all the way to a meager three points. The third quarter loomed large as an opportunity to regain momentum.

Instead, the Mavericks horded it all for themselves.

With a few key defensive wrinkles added to the mix, Dallas choked off any hopes the Rockets had for turning the tables back in their favor. The Mavericks threw Shawn Marion at Dragic to limit the damage he had been causing, while also double-teaming Scola at every opportunity. The end result: a bonanza of blown shots and turnovers as Houston’s offense went into a deep funk it simply didn’t seem to have the energy to climb out of. The Rockets scored a season-low 12 points in the quarter, allowing Dallas to seize an eight-point advantage heading into the final frame.

“The start of that third quarter the game was kind of up for grabs until somebody could get into a rhythm, and they were the ones who got into a little bit of a rhythm offensively,” said McHale. “We had some looks, we had our opportunities we just couldn’t (take advantage).

“We’re a team that has to make some of those shots – that’s just the way we’re constituted. We don’t have a Dirk or someone like that we go to a lot; we’re a team that drive-and-kicks and tries to move the ball, and if we’re not hitting those shots it gets hard.”

From that standpoint, the fourth quarter offered little in the way of a respite for the Rockets. Dallas allowed Houston to hang around thanks to some rather lackluster play of its own, but the Rockets simply didn’t possess the firepower necessary to take full advantage. After its opening 3-point blitz in the first quarter, Houston hit just 3-of-18 from downtown the rest of the way, dooming the club to its sixth straight loss to the Mavericks.

And 1s: Prior to Tuesday's game, Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey announced that the team signed forward Malcolm Thomas of the D-League’s L.A. D-Fenders to a 10-day contract. This marks Thomas’ second GATORADE Call-Up of the season. He also saw 15 minutes of action over three games with the San Antonio Spurs this season. In addition, the Rockets have inked guard Courtney Fortson for the remainder of the season. Fortson was originally signed by Houston to a 10-day contract on Mar. 17.
 
Thomas (6-9, 220, San Diego State) is averaging 13.0 points, 8.9 rebounds and 2.13 blocks over 31.6 minutes per outing in 23 total D-League games (14 starts) this season with the L.A. D-Fenders and Austin Toros. With just the D-Fenders, Thomas has saw action in 19 contests (13 starts), averaging 13.8 points (.650, 104-160 FG), 9.3 boards and 2.05 blocks. He was signed by the Spurs on Jan. 11, 2012, and assigned to the Toros on Jan. 30. He was waived by San Antonio on Feb. 7 and joined the D-Fenders. Thomas also appeared in 17 games (five starts) with Mobis Phoebus (Korea-KBL) to start the 2011-12 season, averaging 20.8 points, 10.6 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.59 steals and 2.82 blocks in 37.6 minutes per game.
 
In three seasons with Pepperdine (2007-08) and San Diego State (2009-11), Thomas appeared in 103 games (98 starts), averaging 11.6 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.85 blocks in 30.6 minutes. He helped lead the Aztecs to an NCAA Sweet 16 appearance in 2010-11, averaging 11.4 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.02 blocks in 30.4 minutes. Thomas was an All-Mountain West Conference Second Team selection in each of his two seasons at San Diego State, as well as an All-Defensive Team selection as a senior. He concluded his career with the Aztecs as the school’s second leading shot blocker, as well as ranking eighth all-time in rebounds per game and eighth in field goal percentage.
 
Fortson (5-11, 185, Arkansas) has averaged 2.8 points, 1.2 rebounds and 0.8 assists in five games since joining the Rockets. He also owns career averages of 14.3 points, 5.0 assists and 3.7 rebounds in 35 D-League games (15 starts) with the Reno Bighorns (2010-11) and L.A. D-Fenders (2011-12). In 29 games (14 starts) this season with the D-Fenders, Fortson holds averages of 17.0 points, 5.9 assists, 4.3 boards and 2.14 steals. At the time of his Call-Up, Fortson was ranked tied for 14th in the league in scoring, sixth in assists and second in steals.

QUOTES

KEVIN MCHALE

(Were you guys kind of living on borrowed time relying on jump shots as much as you did tonight?) – “Have you seen us play this year? We tend to take some jump shots. We had to go in the post a little bit; they started double-teaming, we were trying drive-and-kicks, and we were trying to get the ball into the paint off the dribble. They made a couple of adjustments – played soft on everything, kind of making us go over the top, and really jammed the paint on us for awhile, and then we had hard time. They started switching a lot of stuff, played a little bit of zone – not as much as the first game [this past Saturday night]. And the start of that third quarter the game was kind of up for grabs until somebody could get into a rhythm, and they were the ones who got into a little bit of a rhythm offensively. We had some looks that we made earlier, but we’re going to have to make those looks. For us we’re going to have to make drive-and-kicks, and make some shots.”

We had some good looks, but I thought they amped it up defensively some. They put Marion and some different guys on Goran to try to slow him down some. We had some looks, we had our opportunities we just couldn’t (take advantage). We’re a team that has to make some of those shots – that’s just the way we’re constituted. We don’t have a Dirk or someone like that we go to a lot; we’re a team that drive-and-kicks and tries to move the ball, and if we’re not hitting those shots it gets hard. And we weren’t running and didn’t have the zip that we needed especially in that third quarter. I thought that first five minutes of that third quarter if we could’ve gotten some juice and really gotten some run outs, and gotten some baskets, and gotten some momentum it would’ve been a different game.

I think we got a little bit tired. We played last night and had an overtime game and we just didn’t have the zip that we needed. We need to play with thrust offensively all the time; we can’t be a walk it up team and yet there were times where we walked it up.

LUIS SCOLA

(On the second half) “I think we were playing well in the first quarter, first two quarters. We were playing well, we were moving the ball, and that’s when we get good shots. They were letting us play, letting us do the things we do best, then they adjusted. They played better in the second half, we didn’t have what we wanted to do. We needed to change a little bit, we were not able to find a way to be effective, in the second half, and we started missing those shots, because they were worse shots, because we weren’t being that fluid in the second half. I don’t know exactly what it was, if it was our fault or their adjustment, I don’t know. The thing is we were playing worse, and everything was less fluid, and that leads to bad shots.

(Did the back-to-back affect the game) “I don’t think so. It’s just the way it is. We’ve been playing back-to-backs the whole season.

(On if the double team was the turning point) “I think I made a couple mistakes when they double-teamed me and that affected us. If that was the whole thing, I don’t know. Maybe if those plays turned into something good, maybe they would have stopped doing it and changed the game. I don’t know if that was a turning point or not, but I believe that I made a couple of mistakes that hurt us.”

Mavs Head Coach Rick Carlisle

(On second-half adjustments for defending Luis Scola): “We double-teamed him in the post in the third quarter. It got us aggressive, got us scrambling, got us into the game better and guys did a good job with it.”

(On the importance of the performance off the bench): “No question. We got off to a very poor start. They’re a high energy team and they came out with a lot of force and we just didn’t play well. Odom, Terry, Wright, all of those guys that came in – Beaubois had a very impactful game. All of those guys did and they were the difference.”

(On the play of Lamar Odom): “He played his game. That’s how he plays. It was big because we needed a lift and he was one of several guys that gave it to us. He was terrific all night long.”

“I like the way he played tonight, and this is a great step in the right direction. This is how he plays. I’ve said all along we believe in the guy. Fifteen games doesn’t sound like a long time, but in this particular case, it’s almost a quarter of a season. It’s half of a college season. It’s a long time and there’s a long way to go, but it’s obvious that we need him and everybody else.”

(On getting into the penalty early in the second quarter): “It was helping because we couldn’t throw the ball in the ocean in terms of making field goals. We were playing a sloppy, scattered offensive game. Initially, our answer to a big deficit was to get the ball, go down and shoot up a quick shot. We changed gears and started attacking inside, and they’re an aggressive team that will foul and we got to the bonus. The free throw line got Dirk going a little bit and I thought that carried through the second half.”

(On whether the team is close to finding consistency): “I don’t know. We’re showing some good signs in some areas – our second half was tremendous, it was playoff caliber. Our first half, we played like a lottery-type team; we were not solid, we were not together, and so we’ve got work to do, and I don’t mind that. I like a situation where you’ve got some upside and room to improve. That means we’ve got to keep pushing. This is another very good win against a team that’s a fighting team. They came at us from the very beginning of the game with a nasty toughness about them and we had to really respond, not only by putting the ball in the basket, but by being patient and deliberate to a certain degree and by chipping away and working the game in the second half. There’s no five-point baskets or eight-point plays. You’ve got to play a possession at a time and we did that in the second half.

Mavs forward Brandan Wright

(Collectively as a bench you guys came up huge tonight?) – “We came out slow and started the game off not how we wanted and us bench guys came in a picked the team back up. That’s what it is about a whole team effort and we came in and picked the guys up and kept going from there.”

(Coach Carlisle always tells you guys to be ready to play when you’re name is called. You’ve seem to embrace that?) – “Guys are starting to have confidence in me and coaches have confidence in me so that makes it really easy to go out there and produce and they believe in me.”

(Talk about the energy you’ve been bringing to the floor?) – “Yeah it’s good and I just try to go out there and lift up the team like tonight because we were struggling in the 1st quarter. The bench guys came in and really picked it up and started to make things happen and we never looked back and that’s what it is all about.”

(What’s it going to be like when everyone is healthy and ready for the playoffs?) – “We’re going to be a very dangerous team. When we get full strength the sky is the limit. We really haven’t been at full strength the whole year so when we get all the guys back and we get rolling we’re going to be real scary in the playoffs.”

Mavs guard Roddy Beaubois

“We got off to a tough start but everyone bounced back and the second unit did a great job to get us back into the game and then everyone got into it so it was good tonight.”

(Talk about Lamar Odom’s contributions tonight?) – “We all know what he’s capable of doing and when he plays like that it’s great for the team. He’s an incredible player so when he feels it and plays this way it’s a plus for us for sure.”

“Scola was having a great game and playing good so we had to do something. We got everyone involved on defense and we scrambled well. It’s always good for us when we scramble because we can run and get into the fast break so doubling Scola was a good call by the coaches.”

“Because of how close the standings are in the west we have to take every game seriously because we have to win every game that we can and we have to approach every game like it’s a playoff game. We have to be focused from the beginning to the end.”

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