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Tuesday March 6, 2012 1:03 PM

House Of Healing


Rockets hoping to rekindle recent magic in Boston once again

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com

BOSTON, MA - On the surface, it might seem as if Boston would be one of the last places a struggling, beat up or downtrodden team would want to visit. Tough, talented and extremely well coached, the Celtics have been one of the league’s elite squads for the better part of the past five years, making them an especially miserable matchup for clubs that come limping into the TD Garden.

Correction: For clubs not named the Rockets, that is.

Instead, the Garden has been a veritable house of healing for Houston, almost as if the arena’s leprechauns go temporarily color blind, inexplicably losing the ability to discern Rockets’ red from Celtics’ green. Regardless of the circumstances, be they injuries, prolonged losing streaks and the like, the Rockets have recently found nothing but big wins and refuge in Boston, beating the Celtics and the odds again and again come what may.

Three years ago, Von Wafer announced his arrival with a sublime shooting display to help Houston snap a three-game losing streak despite the fact the club was without the services of the injured Shane Battier and Tracy McGrady. One season later, the Rockets rallied for a stunning overtime win, accomplished while dressing a mere nine players whose combined salaries added up to just a shade over $15.5 million - in other words, less than the annual salaries earned individually by each member of Boston’s Big Three featuring Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. And last year the Rockets completed the hat trick with yet another shocker, snapping a five-game losing skid despite dealing with the injury absences of Kevin Martin, Chuck Hayes and Brad Miller.

So while it might seem a stretch to say there’s no place the Rockets would rather be right now than Boston, there’s no denying the fact it seems only appropriate that Houston would arrive in Beantown with a fair bit of baggage once again, this time coming in the form of a three-game losing streak that has prompted the team’s precipitous fall from fourth to eighth in the jam-packed Western Conference playoff picture.

“It’s just a great place to play against a great team,” says Kyle Lowry. “We just always find a way to win here. It doesn’t matter whether we’re on a losing streak or dealing with injuries, we just always seem to come together a little bit more when we’re here.”

One of the keys to the Rockets rediscovering that winning feeling and putting an end to their recent slide will undoubtedly hinge upon their ability to halt another ignominious streak of sorts. Houston has been outrebounded in each of its last 10 games; a streak they should be able to snap given Boston’s standing as the league’s fifth-worst team in terms of rebound rate. Additionally, the Celtics are dead last by a mile in offensive rebound rate (Boston’s philosophy for years now has been to send all five guys back after shot attempts in order to bolster its transition defense), which should give the Rockets ample opportunities to attack the defensive glass and trigger its transition game.

According to Synergy Sports, the Celtics rank 25th in the league in transition defense conceding 1.167 points per possession, so any opportunity Houston has to run must be maximized against a Boston team that aims to turn every game into a battle of half-court execution. Similarly, look for the Rockets to do their very best to transform Celtics’ turnovers (Boston ranks 28th in the NBA in turnover rate) into easy points at the other end as well.

Of course, it’s one thing to be aware of Boston’s vulnerabilities; quite another to exploit them. The Celtics are riding a four-game winning streak and Rajon Rondo is coming off a performance for the ages that catapulted his club to a huge overtime victory over the Knicks on national TV Sunday afternoon. Tough, talented, well coached – each of those adjectives still applies.

And the Rockets wouldn’t have it any other way.

“We’ve come here in many different situations the last few years,” said Luis Scola, who averaged 22 points and 10.5 rebounds against Boston last year. “They’ve always been fun games to watch. I’ll never forget Chuck Hayes guarding Kevin Garnett in the post, Von Wafer hitting that big 3 in the corner, Aaron Brooks going off for 30-plus points and hitting the game-winner - I remember a lot of the games here. This is a good place for us.

“Maybe today could be another good memory for next year.”

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