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Tuesday December 28, 2010 0:38 AM

Rockets Still Streaking

Fourth quarter rally lifts Houston to 100-93 victory, fifth win in a row

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com

HOUSTON - Their path to .500 was most definitely not easy. And the final step certainly had its fair share of shaky moments.

But when push came to shove, the Rockets were able to find their footing and steady themselves in the nick of time. The end result: after starting the month of December seven games below the break even mark, Houston’s record now stands at 15-15 after rallying past the Washington Wizards for a 100-93 win – the Rockets fifth straight victory and seventh in their past eight games.

“From where we started, we should feel good about our road back to .500,” said Kevin Martin, who led all scorers with 20 points. “It's not actually being at .500, because for the season, we have better goals than that. Our road back to .500, the way everybody is playing, that's what we should feel relieved about.”

Much like the start of Houston’s season, which included five straight losses to begin the year and serious injuries to stars Yao Ming and Aaron Brooks, there were moments Monday night when it seemed as if the Rockets’ uphill climb would prove insurmountable. Despite facing a Washington team which came in winless on the road this season, the Rockets struggled to find their rhythm in their first game back from the holiday break, often times succumbing to the Wizards’ considerable size and length. And when Washington took a 10-point lead early in the fourth quarter, there were more than a few uneasy murmurs making their way through the Toyota Center faithful.

But at that moment the Rockets rediscovered their mojo and made sure the game’s final 10 minutes would belong to them. Houston promptly embarked upon a 15-4 run to regain the lead, then held Washington scoreless during the final 3:31 of the contest, all while returning to the attacking, precision-passing style of basketball that had led to the Rockets’ resurgence in the first place.

Houston did so, however, with a new, yet familiar lineup on the floor. For the first time since his return from a severely sprained left ankle, Aaron Brooks closed the game alongside Kyle Lowry, while Rockets’ head coach Rick Adelman paired that backcourt duo with Kevin Martin, Shane Battier and Chuck Hayes up front. The results couldn’t have been much better. The Brooks-Lowry combo, such a huge factor in the Rockets’ surprising success from a year ago, came up big as Lowry steered the ship while Brooks shook off a poor shooting night to pour in 13 fourth quarter points. Battier and Hayes, meanwhile, anchored Houston’s defense down the stretch, forcing several Wizards’ miscues and errant shots to help trigger the Rockets’ potent transition game.

“Shane and Chuck were terrific,” said Adelman. “Chuck on (Andray) Blatche was just terrific. We were able to play him one-on-one and match everybody up one-on-one.

“And once Aaron gets a rhythm going – that 3 he hit in the corner reminded me so much of what he did last year. Kyle made the right play, penetrated and then kicked it to him. That’s what we get from Aaron. He didn’t make a lot of shots tonight but as he gets his timing, we’re going to get more and more of that and that’s why I like those two guys together.”

Houston’s closing five wasn’t the only tweak to the Rockets’ recent recipe for success. Instead of being able to rely on their crisp ball movement and precise offensive execution, Monday night was much more about the Rockets’ defense providing the necessary spark to help Houston secure a much-needed victory. And that fact alone allowed a game seemingly lacking aesthetic appeal on the surface to possess plenty of beauty to the Rockets’ players and coaches when all was said and done.

“We were just sluggish,” conceded Battier, who supplemented his strong defense with 15 points and 6 rebounds. “Call it Christmas hangover, call it what you will, but it took us awhile to get going and really get into it on the offensive end.

“There’s so many games during the year where you have to invent ways to win games – that’s what playoff teams do. You’re not going to be able to play to your strengths every single night. For us that’s 3-point shooting. When we’re not making 3s and not getting easy buckets then we’ve got to find different ways to win ballgames and from that standpoint it was a quality win.”

And 1s: Before the game, Adelman addressed the status of newly-acquired Terrence Williams, who has yet to see game action since becoming a member of the team. Shortly after the trade was made, Adelman spoke of his need to see Williams on the practice court in order to get a better idea of his strengths and weaknesses, and of the importance for the second-year player to familiarize himself with the Rockets’ system. Due to Houston’s pre-Christmas road trip and the holiday break which followed, Williams has only had one practice with the club up to this point, so it might be a little while yet before he gets an opportunity to play significant minutes in Rockets’ red.

“This week we’ll be able to see him practice and get an idea of where his strengths are and everything,” said Adelman. “But it’s hard to get him into the rotation right now so we’ll just have to wait and see.

“We’re trying to be consistent with what we’re doing right now and I think you also have to remember we’ve been trying to get Aaron back in at the same time. That’s a change, too, so right now we’re just going to kind of go with what we’ve been doing and go from there.”

QUOTES

RICK ADELMAN

We just couldn’t get anything going at all, then in the fourth quarter we got stops and we rebounded better and of course we made shots. But once we got stops and we rebounded we were able to get into the open court and pick the tempo of the game up. It was a good win.

We knew it would be a tough one because they’re a tough matchup for us. They’re bigger, they’re taller, we had a hard time keeping them off the boards but our guys stayed with it and won the game.

We have to do the job to get the crowd into it. That’s what happened. We started making stops, we started attacking at the other end and the whole tempo of the game changed in the fourth quarter.

(on playing Aaron and Kyle together down the stretch): Those two guys are tough. If we can match up defensively and once Aaron gets a rhythm going – that 3 (Brooks) hit in the corner reminded me so much of what he did last year. Kyle made the right play, penetrated and then kicked it to him. We talked about that in the huddle. That’s what we get from Aaron. He didn’t make a lot of shots tonight but as he gets his timing, we’re going to get more and more of that and that’s why I like those two guys together.

(defensively): Shane was a big difference. Shane and Chuck were terrific. Chuck on Blatche was just terrific. We were able to play him one-on-one and match everybody up one-on-one.

(getting back to. 500): We’ve been talking about it. We buried ourselves a hole so deep those first five games, then we were seven games under at one point. We just kept talking about getting on some sort of rhythm and some type of roll. That was the first goal. You get to .500 and now you’re in the chase somehow. We’ve put ourselves in this position and now we want to push it up and that’s what we have to do. We wanted to put ourselves in the group that is fighting for the playoffs and today we’re there, so now we’ll see what happens.

SHANE BATTIER

We were just sluggish. Call it Christmas hangover, call it what you will, but it took us awhile to get going and really get into it on the offensive end.

(winning the game with defense): There’s so many games during the year where you have to invent ways to win games – that’s what playoff teams do. You’re not going to be able to play to your strengths every single night. For us that’s 3-point shooting. When we’re not making 3s and not getting easy buckets then we’ve got to find different ways to win ballgames and from that standpoint it was a quality win.

(On the Rockets 15 to 4 run in the 4th quarter) “For awhile there we were just trading baskets and that’s never a good recipe for us. Defensively we were starting to rebound the basketball better. We had to work really hard to maintain our boards and once we did, we got out on the break and got some easy ones to get back into it.”

(On the Rockets play) “We were sluggish for most of the game and it took a great effort in the 4th quarter to wake up and remember we’re at our best when we’re out there running and playing with a lot of offensive energy.”

AARON BROOKS

As a team we played good in the fourth quarter. It starts with the defensive end and we all hit big shots from Kev, me and Shane, Kyle made the right decisions and Chuck’s defense was excellent.

LUIS SCOLA

(On the importance of the win) “It was very, very important. We were playing bad and need to win the games when we play bad. It (the game) was a good job for us.”

(On being .500 & facing Miami on Wednesday) “It’s a big game that we have against a pretty good team that’s playing well. We’re playing well too. We’re playing at home, it’s going to be a nice ball game.”

KEVIN MARTIN

(On the Rockets difficulties offensively) “I think it was (difficult) just because we had a nice Christmas break, we had three days away from each other. We were just trying to get back into the rhythm. We got it going with six minutes to go in the 4th (quarter). It’s better late than never.”

(On the importance of being at .500) “From where we started I think we should feel good on our road back to .500. It’s not actually being at .500 because before this season we had better goals than that.”

WASHINGTON WIZARDS COACH FLIP SAUNDERS

(on the key to the Rockets 4th quarter run) “They made their shots and made some big threes. We missed some free throws and didn't run our offense down the stretch. We played hard and controlled the tempo early and then seemed to run out of gas and make mistakes at the end.”

(on his team's play) “We have to have better concentration. When we put Kirk (Hinrich) on someone, he shuts them down and our guys have to learn how to shut people down. When a team does things quickly against us we seem to have problems. It's frustrating. We have to keep this group together and get better as a team.”

(on the Rockets) “ Houston is a good team and has won seven in a row. We knew Houston would be tough at home.”

ANDRAY BLATCHE

(on the Rockets 4th quarter run) “ Houston picked up the tempo and hit big shots and we had a lot of mental mistakes. They played hard and kept “trucking” against us at the end. If we played the same, as we did in the first half, our record would be totally different.”

RASHARD LEWIS

(on playing in Houston) “Every time I play here I have a lot of family and friends that come to the game, It's always good to play in Houston in front of my friends.”

(on the game) “This was a really tough loss because we gave it away the last five minutes with careless turnovers.”

(on his new team) “I saw a lot of positives. We can really spread the court and now we have to learn how to finish teams off. We have to stay positive as a team and keep playing defense.”

JOHN WALL

(on the Rockets 4th quarter key) “They made their shots. We did a terrible job down the stretch and didn't run our offense. When Houston made their run we tried to force our shots and hit the big home run.”

(on his play) “I felt pretty good. I didn't do a great job of being the point guard and setting up my teammates.”

(on the team's play) “We have to learn how to finish off games. We are right there and then we let it slip away. We have to learn from this and get better.”

NOTES

Houston’s attendance of 18,143 tonight marks the fourth sellout at Toyota Center in 2010-11.

The Rockets have reached 15-15 on the season following a 100-93 comeback win over the Wizards. Houston stood seven games below .500 entering this month (5-12).

Houston currently holds a 10-3 mark in Dec. 2010, posting double-digit win totals in each of the last three months of Dec. (10-5 in 2008 and 11-5 in 2009).

The Rockets have now won seven of their last eight outings, including a season-long five-game winning streak (12/17/10-12/27/10). Houston has also captured its last eight contests (11/24/10-12/27/10) at Toyota Center.

Led by 13 points (4-7 FG, 4-5 FT) and four assists in the fourth quarter by Aaron Brooks, Houston erased a 10-point deficit over the final 10 minutes of the game for a 100-93 victory. Trailing by as much as six points in the fourth quarter last season vs. Washington (3/30/10), Chase Budinger (13) and Kyle Lowry (10) combined for 23 points over the final 12 minutes to help Houston to a 98-94 comeback win. The Rockets also found themselves down by nine points in the fourth quarter of a come-from-behind 103-91 win in 2008-09 at Washington (11/21/08).

Aaron Brooks finished with 15 points (5-15 FG, 4-5 FT), five assists and four rebounds in his first home game since returning from his ankle injury.

Kevin Martin led five Rockets in double-figure scoring tonight with 20 points (7-16 FG, 2-4 3FG, 4-5 FT) and seven rebounds. Martin has scored 20 or more points in each of the last six straight outings (12/15/10-12/27/10), which sets his season-best run of consecutive 20-point games (11/6/10-11/14/10).

Shane Battier had 15 points (6-7 FG, 2-3 3FG), six rebounds and two blocks tonight. Houston is now 10-5 this season when Battier reaches double-figure scoring, including a mark of 9-1 in the last 10 such games.

Luis Scola scored 14 points (7-13 FG) to extend his career-best streak of double-figure scoring to 26 consecutive games (11/6/10-12/27/10).

Jordan Hill added 11 points (6-9 FG) and seven rebounds to help the Rockets bench take a 36-25 scoring edge over the Wizards reserves.

Kirk Hinrich topped six Wizards in double-digit scoring with 19 points (7-15 FG, 5-6 FT), but was held without an assist. Coming into this night, Hinrich was averaging 16.3 points, 9.8 assists and 4.8 rebounds in his last three games.

Andray Blatche notched his sixth double-double of the season with 17 points (7-15 FG), 14 rebounds, three steals and two blocks tonight. Blatche topped five Wizards in double-figure scoring with 31 points (13-23 FG), 10 boards, four steals, three assists and three blocks last season at Houston (3/30/10).

Nick Young scored 18 points (6-13 FG, 2-2 3FG, 4-4 FT) tonight. Young entered this contest averaging a career-high 14.6 points per game, including 20 or more points in a game 12 times this season.

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