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Saturday January 7, 2012 0:13 AM

Bad Visit To Boom Town

Rockets sent to third straight defeat as Thunder streak to 109-94 victory

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com




OKLAHOMA CITY - There’s no place like home.

That has to be front and center on the minds of Rockets players and coaches Friday night following a dispiriting 109-94 loss to Oklahoma City in a defensive performance that was eerily reminiscent of Wednesday’s defeat at the hands of the Clippers. The disappointing result capped an 0-3 road trip for the Rockets who are still in search of their first victory away from home in the 2011-12 season.

The Thunder torched Houston’s defense just as the Clippers did two nights earlier, repeatedly penetrating the Rockets’ perimeter D before finding little resistance at the rim for an assortment of easy layups and dunks.

The onslaught began shortly after the opening tip as the Rockets – playing shorthanded without their best player, Kyle Lowry (bruised right foot), and top wing defender, Courtney Lee (calf sprain) – looked disjointed on both ends of the floor, turning the ball over far too frequently which only served to kick-start the Thunder’s relentless rush to the hoop. Buoyed by the turbo-boost provided to their transition game, Oklahoma City got hot feasting on a bevy of bunnies, scoring 22 of their 30 first quarter points inside the painted area.

The second quarter only served to stretch the difference between the two times as the Thunder continued to push their advantage. By halftime, Oklahoma City had racked up a whopping 30 points in the paint, scorched the nets to the tune of 57.9 percent shooting from the field and built a 58-41 lead on the scoreboard, burying the Rockets beneath a barrage of buckets that Houston appeared powerless to prevent.

“Their first 24 shots, I think 16 of them were in the paint,” said Rockets Head Coach Kevin McHale after the game. “They were just way more aggressive than we were tonight right from the start. Right now we’re not playing very well and we’re digging ourselves a bit of a hole and we’re going to have to dig our way out.

“Part of it is we’ve played against teams that have been together and we’ve played against teams that are playoff teams. I thought the Clippers were kind of a one-man gang with Chris Paul picking us apart but we’ve played against teams that are pretty efficient in what they’re doing and we struggle against that on the road – it’s really hard to explain.”

Clearly the Rockets’ primary point of emphasis right now lies on the defensive end, especially with a rematch with the Thunder less than 24 hours away. Tough as they are, Houston simply must do a better job dealing with Oklahoma City’s big three of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden, who combined to shoot nearly 62 percent from the field Friday night.

But there exists plenty of room for improvement on offense as well as the Rockets have consistently looked out of sorts on that end of the floor during the minutes when Lowry has not been on the floor this season. Houston did well to cut down on the turnovers after a nightmarish first half in that category, but by that time the game had seemingly already been decided.

To be sure, Houston has not been helped by a brutal schedule to start the season and a host of tough, playoff-caliber opponents. The last two games have seen the worst case scenario unfold but they are, after all, just two games. Still, in this truncated season a turnaround needs to take place sooner than later and the Rockets know there’s no better time to turn the tide than by gaining a measure of revenge against OKC when the two teams square off once more Saturday night at Toyota Center.

“We’re not comfortable on offense or defense right now as a team, I can tell you that much,” said McHale. “But we’ve got to get it. That’s the way this season is. I told the guys, we’ve got to work hard every single day and we’ve got to get more comfortable with what we’re doing.

“Right now we can’t look at anything else besides our effort and our effort’s got to improve every single night.”

QUOTES

KEVIN MCHALE

Their first 24 shots, I think 16 of them were in the paint. We didn’t do a terrible job on a couple possessions but on a couple possessions they just broke us down and then Harden came in and just started driving at will. Defensive-wise, we’ve just got to be more aggressive. They had us pushed out to half-court on our offense and they were just way more aggressive than we were tonight right from the start. Right now we’re not playing very well and we’re digging ourselves a bit of a hole and we’re going to have to dig our way out. The only people who can dig them out is the players and I told them that so we just have to keep on battling and just keep on fighting away. Right now we can’t look at anything else besides our effort and our effort’s gotta improve every single night.

Part of it is we’ve played against teams that have been together and we’ve played against teams that are playoff teams. I thought the Clippers were kind of a one-man gang with Chris Paul picking us apart but we’ve played against teams that are pretty efficient in what they’re doing and we struggle against that on the road – it’s really hard to explain. We just have these breakdowns and it’s not the same guy all the time, it’s just a lot of different breakdowns defensively but on most of those breakdowns we’ve just got to get more aggressive throughout everything we do.

(is there a tentativeness to everything they do?): There’s no question. We’re not comfortable on offense or defense right now as a team, I can tell you that much, but we’ve got to get it. That’s the way this season is. I told the guys, we’ve got to work hard every single day and we’ve got to get more comfortable with what we’re doing.

CHASE BUDINGER

We’re just not focused. Our defensive coverages, we’re not focusing in on what we need to do. We’re not keeping a tight shell where we’re giving them way too many gaps and they’re exposing those gaps on us and that’s what’s been happening the last two games … each and every one of us has to be engaged out there mentally.

LUIS SCOLA

We just need to regroup, get back on track, practice and work hard and start back from zero. So far it’s not working. It’s early in the season but we’ve got a lot of work to do.

We have no excuses right now. We can spend our energy trying to find reasons why we’re not playing the right way but that’s not gong to help us. We just need to find a way to play right instead of worrying about why we’re playing bad.

(does it just start with keeping guys out of the paint?): Well there’s a bunch of stuff we’re doing wrong out there – it’s not one thing. It’s a lot of stuff we’re doing wrong; we need to work on a lot of stuff – our offense, too; it’s not only the defense. I don’t think it’s exclusively a defensive problem. Today the defense wasn’t great but I think they scored on us a lot of times on fastbreaks that came right after a bad shot.

CHANDLER PARSONS

“It’s all about effort. We all can play. We all have talent but that can only get you so far. We just need to come together. It’s a long season. We had a tough beginning to our season. We played a couple of tough teams on the road but we can’t make excuses. We have to come together, execute, and leave it all out on the floor for forty-eight minutes.”

OKLAHOMA CITY’S HEAD COACH SCOTT BROOKS:
 
Opening statement:
“I thought we played really good.  Kevin (Durant) had one of his best overall games, on both sides of the floor.  He was passing the ball, shooting it well.  As a team, we passed the ball well.  We only had 11 turnovers—that’s one of the things we talked about going into this game…Now let’s move on to the next game.  We play that team again tomorrow night.  This game has no effect once we reach tipoff tomorrow night.  We just have to put this game behind us as quickly as possible and move on.”
 
On playing team basketball during this busy stretch of the season:
“Yes, it’s a good start.  We have the three games in three nights, but like I said before the game and the last few days, we’re just focusing on the first game.  It was good that we played well on both ends of the floor and a lot of guys played well.  I thought our bigs really did a good job passing the basketball.  I thought Nick and Nazr in that and that second group did really good, and the starters, Serge and Perk, did a good job.  That’s what teams do—they take care of business—and they did that tonight.”
 
On Kevin Durant initiating plays:
“That’s what he does.  He’s really working on that and forcing himself to be a better all around player.  Kevin could fill up a stat sheet every night and that’s our goal with him.  I talked with Kevin—I want him to get rebounds, I want him to get assists, blocks, and steals.  Of course we know he’s going to score and he’s going to get to the free throw line but he wants an all-around game plan and that’s something he continues to build on.”
 
THUNDER FORWARD KEVIN DURANT

 On the importance of having the starters being able to rest on the bench for most of the second half:
 “It was important for us, since we got this back-to-back-to-back. We got three in a row and then a day off and then another back-to-back.”
 
How does the condensed schedule affect player’s mentalities on these back-to-back games?
 “We can’t worry about the schedule, we just gotta play the games and go out there and focus on getting a win. We can’t worry about how many games we have, at the end of the day, we just gotta go out there and play.”
 
On his performance tonight:
 “I just let the game come to me these last few games, the last two games in particular. I’ll I was worrying about was trying to be aggressive and score the basketball. I just let the game come to me and try to find my teammates as much as possible.”

THUNDER GUARD THABO SEFOLOSHA
 
On winning the first game of a three nights:
 “We had a strong game I thought tonight. I think it’s huge [that we won], I don’t know how will fare with three games in a row. I can answer that question maybe on Sunday…it’s just one game at a time, one night at a time. That’s the way I approached it and I think that’s the way my teammates approached it.”

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