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Tuesday January 17, 2012 11:44 PM

Rockets Power Past Pistons

Rockets roll to fourth straight win with 97-80 victory over Detroit

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com




HOUSTON - It’s not often the highlight of an NBA basketball game occurs off the court. But in Kevin McHale’s eyes, nothing that took place on it Tuesday night topped the sight of Kyle Lowry enjoying the luxury of being able to kick back and take a seat on the bench for the entire fourth quarter for a change.

In fact, Houston’s 97-80 win over Detroit provided a perfect, if less than aesthetically pleasing, end to a taxing stretch that saw the Rockets play six games in eight nights: No member of Houston’s starting five was asked to play more than 34 minutes, Courtney Lee made a successful return to action after missing the last eight games with a calf injury and the Rockets’ second unit slammed the door shut on Detroit in the fourth quarter. Best of all, Houston has now won five of its past six games, four in a row and has rapidly climbed all the way back to the .500 mark after starting the season 3-7.

“The highlight of the night was Kyle not having to play the fourth,” quipped Houston’s Head Coach after the game. “That poor dude’s been playing 40-41 (minutes) … we have to keep Kyle and Kevin (Martin) and those guys out of the gym tomorrow. They’ve logged heavy, heavy minutes.

“It was a big win for us getting back to .500. That schedule we had to start the year was brutal – it was as hard as anybody’s schedule – and I didn’t know when we’d get back to .500. … I was really proud of the guys.”

The Rockets reached the break-even mark by surviving a sloppy, turnover-filled contest that was rarely easy on the eyes save for Chandler Parsons’ nightly tip-slam that brought the Toyota Center crowd to its feet. Houston and Detroit combined to turn the ball over a whopping 41 times which, when paired with the Pistons’ penchant for playing at a snail’s pace, prevented the game from ever achieving any sort of rhythm or flow.

When the Rockets were able to execute their offense, however, they rarely had issues putting points on the board – seven Houston players reached double digits in scoring despite the game’s plodding pace and the Rockets shot a very respectable 49.4 percent from the field including a scintillating 8-for-19 mark from beyond the arc. And when a Houston shot was off the mark, the Rockets frequently found a way to secure second chances as the club racked up 17 offensive rebounds as part of a dominating effort on the offensive glass.

At the other end, meanwhile, the story continues to revolve around the eye-opening emergence of Samuel Dalembert. The man has, quite simply, become a monolithic presence in the paint for the Rockets ever since last week’s win over Charlotte; a game which not coincidentally marked the beginning of Houston’s return to respectability. Dalembert’s ability to shut down opponents’ best big men while serving as a rim protector and rebounder extraordinaire has been pivotal during the Rockets’ winning streak and it was on display once again on Tuesday as he delivered 14 points and 12 rebounds – 6 of which came on the offensive end.

But perhaps the best indicator of his excellence was not to be found in his stat line but rather in that of Detroit’s terrific young center, Greg Monroe. Monroe entered Tuesday’s contest averaging more than 17 points per game on 57 percent shooting but Dalembert made his life miserable throughout, harassing him into a 2-for-9 shooting performance that saw him end the evening with a mere four points.

That sort of stifling interior defense has been a Dalembert staple during the Rockets’ run; one which has seen him similarly clamp down on the likes of Tim Duncan, DeMarcus Cousins and LaMarcus Aldridge. Houston’s front office and coaching staff knew he could do those things when they signed him but it’s safe to say they probably didn’t quite expect this level of production. Dalembert entered Tuesday’s game as the No. 4 ranked center in the NBA in Player Efficiency Rating (interestingly, Monroe was No. 1), No. 2 in offensive rebound rate and No. 8 in blocked shots per game. In other words, he’s been just what the doctor ordered – and then some.

“Phenomenal,” gushed McHale, when asked to describe Dalembert’s recent play.  “Sam was great. He’s really taken ownership of that paint. Greg Monroe has been playing really well. I talked to Sammy, he kind of got a little scouting report on him and he played him beautifully; stayed down, challenged high at the top and then his rebounding. I mean, he’s just playing wonderful basketball for us right now.”

QUOTES

KEVIN MCHALE

(On Dalmebert’s play): Phenomenal. Sam was great. He’s really taken ownership of that paint. Greg Monroe has been playing really well. I talked to Sammy, he kind of got a little scouting report on him and he played him beautifully; stayed down, challenged high at the top and then his rebounding. I mean, he’s just playing wonderful basketball for us right now.

(on having Courtney back): We’ve got to be able to keep Kyle and Kevin’s minutes down and I think having Courtney back will help that. Those guys have been playing a lot of heavy minutes this year and yet I think there kind of comes a time when … I know there’s diminishing returns when you play that much – you just get too tired. So having Courtney back will help that.

(On the energy of the team) “It was good because I was really concerned about our legs and our energy, you know I've played the guys really long minutes. Tonight it was nice to give him some rest and try to give K-mart (Kevin Martin), Luis (Scola) and Kyle (Lowry) under 30 (minutes). It was good. They pumped it pretty hard. I think that was our ninth game in 13 days. I was concerned with what kind of energy they would have.”

(On Goran Dragic) “We just talked about a couple things that he is comfortable with. I said, 'Just go play'. I think that Goran is one of those guys that the more he plays the more comfortable he gets. He's going to have to get comfortable out there and go play. He has really good instincts and like everybody, when you play as aggressive as he does, you might have a turnover or two but that doesn't bother me.”

LUIS SCOLA

(On the Rockets reaching .500) “We are back to .500 which is where we wanted to be after a little bit of a slow start. I think the best thing is that we are playing better. We have to continue to play better. Our defense is playing much better. We held teams below 100 (points) pretty much every one of the last five or six games. This is the way that we have to keep going.”

(On the play of Samuel Dalembert) “Sam is a big part of our getting better. He has been playing great. He is rebounding the ball, playing defense, blocking shots and he is playing good offense too. So, he is doing well for us.”

KEVIN MARTIN

(on getting back to .500): It just shows how quick this season is going to move. I think it was five days ago we were four games under .500 and now we’re back to .500.

I think we’re just coming together, knowing what to expect from each other on the court. Kyle’s running this team great, Sam is bringing a great defensive presence and everybody else is just coming along. The coaches said this was the important part of our schedule; we need to take advantage of it.

PISTONS COACH LAWRENCE FRANK

(On the key to the game) “It was a combination of our turnovers and the extra possessions Houston got on their rebounds. We cut it down to eight to ten points, but then those two turnovers hurt us.  We pieced together about thirty-eight good minutes; we have to defend, rebound, and keep down our turnovers.  We did parts of those things at times.  Protecting the ball is essential.  Our effort, energy, and focus is where we want to be.  We will get better as a team.”

(On Dalembert’s presence) “Give Dalembert credit.  It always takes guys a little while to figure him out.  Those our good challenges for our team; those are the challenges that we have to work on and get better at.”

GREG MONROE

(On his play) “It was a combination of Dalembert playing me well and I just couldn’t seem to find a rhythm.  They drew up a scheme, and I couldn’t get things going.  There’s nothing out of the ordinary that he does, but he kept me off balance.  They did a good job on defense.”

(On the team’s play) “We got it down to six points and then things went downhill from there.  It was a tough loss that we could have had.”  

BEN GORDON

(On the game) “Once we were within six points, it was the breaking point and we couldn’t get over the hump.  We gave up way to many second chance points.”

BRANDON KNIGHT

(On the game) “We had a lot of good streaks during the game, but we couldn’t hit shots and they kept putting together nice runs.”

(On Kyle Lowry’s play) “He has definitely gotten a lot better since his college days.  Kyle is very good at the pick and roll, and he puts a lot of pressure on our defense.”

NOTES

Houston captured a 97-80 victory over Detroit tonight, giving the Rockets six straight wins (3/22/07-1/17/12) over the Pistons at Toyota Center. The victory also gave the Rockets four consecutive wins overall and moved them to .500 (7-7) on the season

The Rockets have now built double-digit leads in each of the last seven games (1/7/12-1/17/12), which stands as Houston’s longest run since a nine-game streak back in 2008-09 (2/11/09-3/3/09).

Houston has recorded 17 consecutive victories when holding an opponent under 90 points (last loss: 81-84 on 3/3/10 vs. Sacramento).

The Rockets (21) and Pistons (20) combined for a season-high 41 turnovers on the night.

Samuel Dalembert posted 14 points (7-12 FG) and 12 rebounds (6 offensive) tonight. Dalembert has now registered two double-doubles and five double-digit rebounding games this season.

Luis Scola also had 14 points (5-12 FG) and five rebounds tonight, as the Rockets placed six players in double-figure scoring.

Kyle Lowry finished with 13 points (5-11 FG, 3-7 3FG), five assists, five rebounds and a team-high three steals tonight. Lowry helped the Rockets record a season-high 11 steals, surpassing a nine-theft night at Memphis (12/30/11).

Patrick Patterson scored a season-high 12 points (5-7 FG) off the bench tonight. He now own four double-digit scoring performances on the season.

Courtney Lee returned to the lineup tonight after missing eight games (1/4/12-1/16/12) due to a right calf strain. Jordan Hill left this game early due to flu-like symptoms.

Tayshaun Prince recorded a season-high-tying 20 points (10-22 FG), three rebounds and two steals tonight. Prince’s outing tonight comes on the heels of a season-high 20 points, a season-high seven rebounds, a career-high-tying three steals and one block vs. Golden State (1/15/12).

Ben Gordon added 18 points (7-15 FG) and three steals, while Brandon Knight had 15 points (7-16 FG), four assists and three steals. The two led a 10-steal night for Detroit.

Rodney Stuckey, who finished with a team-high 18 points (6-14 FG, 5-5 FT) and five assists last year at Houston (12/7/10), recorded 16 points (6-11 FG) off the bench tonight.

Greg Monroe totaled team highs of 11 rebounds and six assists tonight, but was limited to just four points (2-9 FG). Monroe, who had a 12-point, 12-rebound double-double in the previous meeting last season at Detroit (2/22/11), entered this game averaging 17.2 points (.571 FG%).

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