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Monday January 16, 2012 5:56 PM

Rockets Keep Rolling

Houston wins third straight, knocks off Wizards 114-106

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com




HOUSTON - Kevin Martin’s skill as a scorer has never been questioned. The man is, quite simply, a scoring machine; one capable of continuously confounding opposing defenses with his innate ability to put points on the board in bunches. It’s a gift that has served him well over the years, making him one of the top scoring 2-guards in the NBA.

What he has not been known for, however, is any sort of consistent knack for getting stops on defense or for displaying an ability to directly create scoring opportunities for his teammates. The fact is he’s not a defensive stopper and with a career average of just two assists per game, deft passing has never been his forte either. Quite clearly his strengths lie in other areas.

Monday afternoon against the Wizards, however, Martin showed that characterization just might be changing. Putting forth an all-around effort that included several key plays on both sides of the ball, Martin was instrumental in leading the Rockets to their third straight victory, this one a 114-106 win over the Wizards.

The eighth-year guard delivered his customary scoring punch while leading Houston with a team-high 25 points but it was his 8 assists that really seemed to stand out as he repeatedly found teammates with timely, well-placed passes for solid scoring opportunities. Martin made plays on the defensive end, too, including a key steal late in the fourth quarter when the John Wall-led Wizards were threatening to send the Rockets toward their second straight nail-biting finish.

Perhaps most impressive of all was the fact that Martin managed to produce this sort of high-energy, all-around performance while playing 42 minutes, marking the third straight game Houston Head Coach Kevin McHale has needed to lean on his starting shooting guard for heavy minutes in order to ensure his club walked away with a win. But Martin has shown he’s clearly up to the task and, what’s more, a comfort level within McHale’s system that appears to be increasing by the game.

“Coach McHale is doing a great job, “said Martin, “utilizing Kyle (Lowry) and myself in the system. We are just taking full advantage of it right now.”

Indeed, the Rockets’ starting backcourt seems to be hitting its stride with Martin’s play quickly catching up to the high standard Lowry set to start the season. Martin once again made a living at the free throw line – going 10-for-10 Monday as part of Houston’s sensational 25-for-26 performance at the charity stripe. And though he’s still searching for his 3-point stroke and endured an uncharacteristic 4-turnover day against the Wizards, he more than made up for those issues with the plays he continuously created for his teammates. To that end, Martin seems to have especially connected with Samuel Dalembert, as the two have developed a rapport that’s led to Martin setting up the Rockets’ big man for several massive dunks over the course of the last two games.

Good thing, too, because it was Dalembert’s third quarter awakening that proved to be a pivotal turning point in Monday’s match-up. With the Rockets struggling to put any distance between themselves and the Wizards, Dalembert shook off his slow start and quite simply took over the game for a tide-turning six minute stretch that saw him score 12 points as Houston’s lead ballooned to 19. And with John Wall’s one-man fast break extravaganza exploding in the fourth quarter in time for him to finish with a career-high 38 points, the Rockets ultimately needed every bit of the cushion Dalembert’s eruption provided.

The end result: the Rockets now head back to Houston for a three-game homestand that begins Tuesday night against the Detroit Pistons. With four wins in their last five games, the Rockets (6-7) have managed to make their way back toward the .500 mark and with a home-heavy schedule featuring several struggling teams lined up for the rest of the month, Houston’s players are well aware of the prime opportunity now before them to make up even more ground in the standings.

“It’s been a struggle for us,” said Lowry, who still managed to make a significant impact (16 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds, 3 steals) despite an off night shooting the ball. “We had the toughest starting schedule this year but we’ve started to settle down and we’ve got a nice homestand coming so we’ve got to get those games at home.”

QUOTES

KEVIN MCHALE

(On Kevin Martin’s play the last couple games): It’s one of those deals where you’ve got to get comfortable out there; you’ve got to be able to feel that you can get rhythm inside the offense and the ball’s going to come your way – it’s a process.

On the Rockets’ defense:

“We’ll defend in spurts but they started off with two dunks in that third quarter before we played well for about a five or six-minute stretch. We just have to defend throughout the entire game and I think sometimes with our team when we start scoring the ball we quit defending at times.”

On the Wizards’ late-game run:

“They had a chance. They made a nice run at us but part of that was just our turnovers and we missed some shots. I was concerned but I thought our guys would get it back. At times our defense looked really good but John Wall is kind of like a one man fast break out there.”

On the team’s performance:

“The nice thing about tonight was that K-Mart (Kevin Martin) and Kyle (Lowry) had 14 assists between the two of them. We moved the ball pretty well and only had 11 turnovers even though it felt like a lot more than that. But again we had decent ball movement and ended up with 24 assists on the evening so that was good.”

KYLE LOWRY

(on the Rockets’ third quarter run): That was our plan. We tried to jump on them in the third quarter, try to build up a little bit of a cushion and play some defense. We got some stops, got some scores and got out and pushed the tempo and played our pace.

(on the Rockets’ climb back toward the .500 mark): It’s been a struggle for us. We had the toughest starting schedule this year but we’ve started to settle down and we’ve got a nice homestand coming so we’ve got to get those games at home.

“Our plan was to go out there and play hard with confidence. My teammates gave me that confidence and trusted me to lead them. We tried to go out there strong defensively, which allowed us to effectively get some stops and score. We did that effectively and were able to play at our pace. Kevin (Martin) and Sam (Dalembert) played really well and that’s what we needed them to do. We did a good job being patient and getting some good fouls. We have to take it one game at a time, especially since it’s been somewhat of a struggle for us. We have a few home games coming up and we have to come out strong.”

KEVIN MARTIN

On his performance:

“Coach McHale is doing a great job … utilizing Kyle (Lowry) and myself in the system. We are just taking full advantage of it right now.”

On Samuel Dalembert’s third quarter performance:

“Sammy (Dalembert) was playing aggressive. He was looking for the lobs. He was doing Coach McHale’s post moves. They must have been working together in their spare time because he’s really picked it up since last week.”

On what worked defensively in the third quarter:

“They were starting to get stops and we were lazy because at one point we did have a 19-point lead. John Wall is one of the best point guards in the league, especially when he is playing that transition game. We just had to try and contain that the best way we could, but we did not contain him very well tonight.”

WIZARDS HEAD COACH FLIP SAUNDERS

On John Wall:

“He was extremely aggressive in how he played on both ends of the floor. He played with a great amount of passion. He did a lot of things, brought us back, gave us an opportunity when we had the ball in his hands. He played better in the second half last game and he followed through and played that way today.”

On today’s game:

“We are playing with a little bit better spark. As I told the guys in there, it is not getting any easier. We have to buckle down and look at the good things we did. We have to build off those things.”

On the team:

“As I have told our players many times, ‘developing players’ does not mean accepting losing. We are going to come back tomorrow, be energetic, have a great practice and give ourselves an opportunity.”

WIZARDS FORWARD ANDRAY BLATCHE

On John Wall:

“He was definitely being aggressive. We got the game down to five points, and then we just started making more mistakes. We have to capitalize when things are going well for us and take our time, not rush, and things should be fine.”

On playing today with a sore shoulder:

“I just told myself as soon as I got up this morning that I am going to go out there and fight and play for my teammates.”

WIZARDS GUARD JORDAN CRAWFORD

On the late-game run:

“We made a good run at the end, but unfortunately we came up short. This is a game we need to build on and move in the right direction with our season. We need to play with that same intensity and energy for 48 minutes. We can’t just start off good and become content.”

On the three-point shot at the end of first quarter:

“I just wanted to get the shot up. I’m glad it went through. It kept us positive and got the crowd excited.”

WIZARDS CENTER JAVALE MCGEE

On the game:

“We have to be more consistent as a team. If we stay with the energy and hustle we had in the first and fourth quarter we will get better. We can’t force the issue. We just have to play within ourselves and just go hard the whole game.”

WIZARDS FORWARD JAN VESELY

On the game:

“I liked the fast-pace tempo. Being able to get out and run fast breaks with John Wall was a positive during the game. Although we gave up a lot of points, I think we played good team defense and we were able to score off of the turnovers.”

WIZARDS GUARD JOHN WALL

On today’s game:

“I just played basketball today, I think I made more jump shots and just found my way getting to the basket and the free throw line, but we came up short on a win.

On the second half:

“I felt comfortable; shooting with confidence is the main thing. Sam (Cassell) told me if I missed one or two just keep shooting and don’t stop, they were going under and I made a couple so I it got me easy baskets to the rim.”

On his performance:

“I think that I’m just relaxing and playing basketball and not thinking too much. Usually, I go out there and find myself thinking about every play, so I’m starting to go out and play more freely.”

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