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Recap: Rockets vs. Hornets, April 26, 2012

Houston's young players come up big late, lead team to 84-77 win over Hornets

 

HOUSTON - It was not the ending the Rockets had hoped for. And it certainly wasn’t the regular season finale the team had envisioned as recently as one week ago. The evening was in fact bittersweet, as it proved impossible to reconcile reality with what might have been. But whatever wistful laments still lingered, the Rockets were ultimately able to put them aside and push through, putting the cap on the club’s sixth straight season with a winning record thanks to an 84-77 victory over the New Orleans Hornets Thursday night at Toyota Center.

Chase Budinger led the way, scoring a season-high 27 points as one of the few Houston players who was able to shoot with much in the way of accuracy (the Rockets shot a season-low 35.2 percent from the field). But of course, this was not a contest for which the typical rules of post-game analysis apply. Thursday’s game was far more about finding a way to end the season on a positive note. It was also about pride, something the Rockets felt they didn’t show nearly enough of during a first half that saw them fall behind by as many as 17 points.

“It definitely didn’t show in that first quarter or the first half,” said Budinger. “We were just kind of going through the motions and not playing with intensity. We came into halftime and really just got on each other and said, ‘Hey, man, let’s just go out there and play hard, play for each other and just play more intense,’ and I think we did that and that’s why we got the win tonight.”

With little of real consequence on the line for Houston besides the miniscule differential in lottery odds that represent the difference between owning the 13th or 14th pick in the upcoming draft, the Rockets loosened the reins on their regular rotation and opened up playing time for rookies Marcus Morris, Greg Smith and Courtney Fortson. Smith certainly seized the opportunity, producing 8 points and 10 rebounds in just 20 minutes of play. And though Morris struggled with his shot throughout, his corner trey with 1:17 left to play gave Houston its first lead of the game, putting the club in front to stay.

Both players offered glimpses of the potential they posses, along with a smorgasbord of skills that must be honed, refined and cultivated during the offseason that is now officially underway. And that, in essence, is the perfect symbol of where this Rockets team stands heading into a summer that promises to be rife with intrigue. Houston has young talent aplenty and a roster that has proven itself capable of giant slaying as it did in wins over Oklahoma City, Chicago and the Lakers this season. But significant improvement must be made, too, as the Rockets’ recent ill-timed slide made all too clear. Houston will have resources in the form of multiple first round picks and cap room to bring in reinforcements from the outside. But just as vital is making sure the young players currently dotting the Rockets’ roster benefit from a summer spent living in the weight room and gym.

“This game’s never really about how good you are; it’s about how good you can be and will be with work,” said Houston Head Coach Kevin McHale after the game. “Marcus needs a big summer of work like a lot of our guys do. I think that’s he’s got a chance to help us, like a lot of our younger guys.

“We’ve got some habits (we need to break). We didn’t push the ball enough this year for how we (want to play) … And some of our guys just need to get a little bit better at making ball-handling decisions. I just think we became a real one-headed team and teams started really ganging up on Goran and putting big guys on him and just trying to take the ball out of his hands. During that six-game losing streak the ball ended up in a lot of guys’ hands and they had to make plays. Those guys have got to be able to make plays. If you’re a one, two or three in the NBA you’ve got to turn corners and make plays. If you can’t, it’s hard out there.”

The Rockets learned that lesson the hard way this season. But now is the time to put that pain to good use. It must become the motivation that drives them to get in the gym and improve every day during the long, hot summer. That’s where the change begins. That’s where the best kind of basketball alchemy takes place; an agonizing process that mixes an endless amount of perspiration with just enough heartache, loss and lament to transform a young, flawed team into a unit tough enough to withstand the rigors of an NBA season, ensuring that these bittersweet endings are soon to become a thing of the past.

QUOTES

KEVIN MCHALE

I thought Greg Smith came in and gave us a big lift rebounding the ball – he can really do that. Chase was making shots which helped us at the start of the game; we were bad. They got a little rhythm going. I thought Patrick and Greg did a good job on the boards for us.

(On Marcus Morris’ performance): I thought Marcus played better (in the second half). He made a big three. It’s just like a lot of these young guys that are coming: I just think he’s going to get better. He needs to play. It’s a rough situation for him when you’re not playing much. He went down and played in the D-League for awhile but that’s a different thing.

Marcus needs a big summer of work like a lot of our guys do. I think that’s he’s got a chance to help us, like a lot of our younger guys. They’ve got to improve. This game’s never really about how good you are; it’s about how good you can be and will be with work. He’s got to get better in areas just like Patrick and all these guys (do). They need a whole summer of work and it will be nice to spend some time around them this summer.

We need a really good summer of work and then a really big Fall. We’ve got some habits (we need to break). We didn’t push the ball enough this year for how we (want to play). We have to get the ball up and push more. And some of our guys just need to get a little bit better at making ball-handling decisions. I just think we became a real one-headed team and teams started really ganging up on Goran and putting big guys on him and just trying to take the ball out of his hands. During that six-game losing streak the ball ended up in a lot of guys’ hands and they had to make plays. Those guys have got to be able to make plays. If you’re a one, two or three in the NBA you’ve got to turn corners and make plays. If you can’t, it’s hard out there.

(On the Rockets missing playoffs) “32-25 coming home from those games. There's no way we shouldn't be in the playoffs this weekend but we're not. That's the bottom line. It's a learning experience. The guys I've talked to I've said 'You're going to play in meaningful games there's going to be a lot of heat, they're going to be coming for you and there's just a level you've got to understand and you've got to come out with that level on the forefront of your mind and it's just going to be a battle.' “

COURTNEY LEE

(On the win) “It's somewhat of a good feeling. We're upset that we didn't make the playoffs but we went out there and did the right thing and finished the season with a win for our fans. They came out and supported us tonight. We could have easily just laid down how we started out the game and didn't want to get in the game and compete but we went out there and we fought for them so it is somewhat of a good feeling.”

(On their thoughts for next season because he's a restricted free agent) “I'm going to take it one day at a time this summer and try to enjoy myself as much as possible. I put in the work last summer. I tried to play to the best of my capabilities throughout this season and I'll just let it take care of its own.”

SAMUEL DALEMBERT

(On the win) “Definitely, nobody wants to go into the off season with a loss. The last game was the kind of game that will mark you a little bit and leave a little bitter taste in your mouth. It (the losing streak) wasn't fair for the fans too. We kind of feel like we let the fans down for the last 10 games. We just came out there and today we started really bad in the first half and we responded to the pressure (in the second half).

(On the Rockets picking up on his option next season) “I'm not worried. Either way, business is business. I've been in this league long enough to know it's not personal, it's just business. We'll see what's going to happen.”

CHASE BUDINGER

(looked like you guys really wanted that win by the end): Definitely. It definitely didn’t show in that first quarter or the first half. We were just kind of going through the motions and not playing with intensity. We came into halftime and really just got on each other and said, ‘Hey, man, let’s just go out there and play hard, play for each other and just play more intense,’ and I think we did that and that’s why we got the win tonight.

MARCUS MORRIS

This summer right here is going to be one of the biggest summers of my life. That’s how I’m approaching it because this year I thought could have helped the team but there were some flaws in my game that the coaches didn’t like. I feel like I need to get in tip-top shape and come back with that same mean streak and get my confidence back to be the kind of basketball player I know I can be.

GORAN DRAGIC

(On the Rockets falling short of the playoffs) “It's sad because two or three weeks ago we had a really good position. On the scoreboard we were 5th or 6th place and after that we lost six or seven games in a row and our season went down. For sure, we have a team for the playoffs but we couldn't make it and everybody is frustrated and disappointed.”

(On the Rockets being a playoff caliber team) “We demonstrated that we can play. We won a lot of games, especially (we showed we could play) against Miami, Oklahoma, the Lakers, all of these teams are going to fight for the championship ring. I think we should be there (in the playoffs). We should play in the playoffs but that's basketball. You have to bring energy. You have to fight every night and some games we didn't do that.”

NEW ORLEANS HORNETS COACH MONTY WILLIAMS

(On the end of the game and the end of the season) “The season, the game was tough and I was certainly proud of our guys that got a chance to play in this last game, but at the same time the season is over and nobody wants their seasons to be over in April. There are so many things to be thankful for, be happy about as we go forward but this is a very tough time and I’ve been feeling it all week. These are my guys and we can’t play anymore and we don’t know what the future holds. Free time isn’t always good. I told our guys, if you feel relieved right now, then you’re not the kind of guys that I want to be around. I really enjoyed being in the playoffs last year. It’s a little tough right now. In the big scheme of things we are very blessed right now.”

CARL LANDRY

(On the season)  “Its tough now that the season, most of the guys in this locker room wanted to be in the post season now and I’m sure the Rockets did too. It’s been a tough year for this team as we’ve been down with a lot of injuries. But in the end we stuck together, fighting, but unfortunately we came up short for the playoffs. We are growing and going in the right direction.

(On the Houston Fans) “I appreciate the Houston fans, I played my heart out when I was here and I played for the fans as well as my teammates and the organization. It always feels good to come back to Houston. I’ve always been welcomed with opening arms when I come through the door and it feels great.”

JEROME DYSON

(On his opportunity)  “It feels great and I’m just happy to be here. A lot of people work real hard for this opportunity in the d-league and not a lot of people get to the NBA. For me it was great to get the opportunity to play and compete and play a lot of minutes and show the team I can play basketball.”

JASON SMITH

(On the game)  “It was a good thing for the young guys to get an opportunity to play, to really come out and get the opportunity to play and show what they can do. It may just be one game, but it’s a big game.”

NOTES

Houston closed out the 2011-12 season with an 84-77 comeback win over New Orleans. The Rockets trailed by as much as 17 points tonight. The winning team has now overcome a deficit of at least 13 points in five of the last six meetings between the Rockets and Hornets.

The Rockets were a perfect 19-0 this season when keeping their opponent below 90 points. Overall, Houston has recorded a franchise-record 31 consecutive victories when holding an opponent under 90 points.

Houston took the victory tonight despite shooting a season-low .352 (32-91 FG) from the field tonight. The Rockets were able to win by limiting the Hornets to .397 (27-68 FG) from the floor. Houston stood a perfect 9-0 this season when keeping an opponent under .400 shooting.

The Rockets held the Hornets to an opponent franchise-low six fourth quarter points tonight. The previous low was seven fourth-quarter points done twice (last by the Utah Jazz on 1/3/04). Overall, it matched the lowest opponent quarter ever registered against the Rockets (six third-quarter points by the Sonics on 3/8/05 at Seattle).

Houston pulled down 56 rebounds tonight, as well as marking the 12th time this season the Rockets have recorded a double-digit rebounding differential over their opponent (+12, 56-44). The Rockets finished with nine 50-plus rebounding games this season.

The Rockets, who scored a season-high 32 first-quarter points in the last home game vs. New Orleans (1/19/12), set season lows in first-quarter scoring (12), first-half points (33) and lowest field goal percentage in a half (.267, 12-45 FG) tonight.

Chase Budinger scored a season-best 27 points (10-18 FG, 5-9 3FG) tonight, marking his fourth 20-point game of the season. Budinger led Houston with his previous season-high 22 points (7-14 FG, 4-8 3FG, 4-4 FT) at Portland (2/8/12) and added another 22 points (8-17 FG, 4-11 3FG) at New Orleans (4/19/12).

Samuel Dalembert posted 11 points (3-6 FG, 5-6 FT) and 11 rebounds (6 offensive) tonight. Dalembert finished with a team-high 18 double-digit rebounding games in 2011-12 and 10 double-doubles.

Courtney Lee collected 10 points (4-14 FG, 2-6 3FG) and six rebounds tonight. Lee finished the season making multiple 3-pointers in each of the last seven consecutive games (4/15/12-4/26/12), which was the longest such streak by a Rockets player this season.

Goran Dragic dished out 13 assists, which marked his ninth 10-assist game of the season.

Samuel Dalembert (11), Patrick Patterson (11) and Greg Smith (10) each pulled down 10-plus rebounds tonight. The Rockets also had three players (Jordan Hill-12, Kyle Lowry-11 and Samuel Dalembert-10) with 10-plus rebounds at Charlotte (1/10/12).

Darryl Watkins had a career-high 13 points (3-6 FG, 7-13 FT), 10 boards and a career-best three steals tonight. His previous best was six points at Dallas (11/3/07).

Al-Farouq Aminu, who recorded a season-high 17 points (6-14 FG) and grabbed eight rebounds at New Orleans (4/19/12), notched 11 points (4-13 FG) and 10 boards tonight.