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Friday October 8, 2010 2:26 PM

Rockets Rebound With Win Over Spurs

Jordan Hill, Kevin Martin key in 90-87 win

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com

Houston - This is what the preseason is about: steady progress quarter by quarter, half by half, game by game. You hope to see it from both individuals and the team as a whole.

Mistakes become teaching points. Success becomes a habit. Growth is the ultimate goal.

To that end, Houston’s 90-87 win over San Antonio Thursday night has to be considered a step in the right direction. A small step, perhaps. But that’s primarily because there are never significant strides made between game 1 and game 2 of the preseason schedule.

Hang around NBA coaches long enough and you’re bound to hear the word “process” every day. There’s a reason for that: bringing together 15 individuals and transforming them into a team takes work. It is a process. And that process takes time. It’s a slow build.

The key, then, is steady improvement and that’s what the Rockets displayed Thursday night. Oh, there’s still much work to be done and many mistakes to correct. The first quarter offense looked disjointed and the defense nonexistent early on. Rest assured that will be addressed during Friday’s film session and practice.

What’s encouraging, however, is how the team responded to its slow start. After allowing San Antonio to score 32 points and shoot nearly 54 percent in the opening frame, Houston’s second unit went to work reversing the momentum. Fellow University of Arizona products Jordan Hill and Chase Budinger led the way, scoring 9 points apiece in the second quarter, while Houston held the Spurs to just 18 points on 26.3 percent shooting.

That Hill was one of the players spearheading the charge was surely both heartening and appropriate. For perhaps no other Rocket can lay claim to the sort of growth and improvement Hill has over the past 3 months. A painful toe injury resulted in a subpar showing at summer league, which at the time seemed to be a bit of a buzz kill after the promise he’d shown after arriving in Houston at last February’s trade deadline. Having returned to full health, however, he’s not only back to doing what he does best – provide energy, run the floor, utilize his length and athleticism – but he’s showing off aspects of his game heretofore only seen in practice. Hill has always had raw talent, but tonight he showed some skill, too, displaying a nifty midrange jumper to complement his ability to clean up around the rim and finish in close.

“If they step off me, then I’ll pop it,” said the second-year pro, who finished the night with 16 points, 3 boards and a block. “My shot has gotten a lot better, so I might as well put it up. And if they do play close to me, then I’ll rip by and try to use my quickness and go to the rim. It’s preseason so it’s a (chance) to show my repertoire and go out there and do what I have to do.”

Another way to mark Hill’s growth: for all the positives he brought to the table Thursday night, his performance was not indicative of his ceiling. Both he and his head coach expect more and recognize the need for further improvement. Hill’s defense still needs to improve. He accrued too many fouls and turnovers, while collecting too few rebounds. If performances like this were simply the best he could do, no doubt he’d be lauded. But because so much more is ultimately expected, the reviews, from both Rick Adelman and Hill himself, were mostly mixed.

“I think he was okay,” said Adelman, when asked for his assessment of Hill’s play. “He’s got to be more consistent. He made some fouls he didn’t have to make. He’s just got to be more consistent in his concentration. He gave the effort and he was effective but you’ve just got to see growth in him.”

So there’s room for improvement. And that’s a good thing. No player and no team wants to look back and see that they peaked during game 2 of the preseason. For both Hill and the Rockets, progress will continue to come in small incremental steps. It is, after all, a process.

And 1’s: Kevin Martin put in a great deal of work this summer to ensure he was ready to hit the ground running this season and he certainly provided a glimpse of what’s to come during a scintillating third quarter which saw him pour in 14 points with near effortless ease. Martin led all scorers with 21 points and, naturally, needed just 11 shots to do so.

The third quarter was also noteworthy for providing the highlight of the night: Aaron Brooks’ running scoop shot which banked in just before the buzzer sounded, while a trio of Spurs simultaneously fell to the ground looking like so many bowling pins – a sight that surely must have been appreciated by a bowling enthusiast like Brooks.

Finally, the Rockets have made no secret of their desire to continue pushing the pace this season, building upon what they began last year when they pushed the tempo early and often. But through the first two games of the preseason, they’ve thus far been dissatisfied with their ability to do so.

“That’s one of the things we have to work on,” said Martin. “Our strength last year was pushing the ball and getting some easy buckets and not focusing on just a couple of our players. We have to get back to getting easy transition buckets, and when we’re in the half-court, we just have to move and look weak-side and everybody play as a team.

“On our first group we have a lot of guys who can score, so I think we get content on going iso a lot and we can’t do that; we have to work the ball around so that everybody’s satisfied.”

QUOTES

COACH RICK ADELMAN

(On the game) “It’s just another game where we learned more about the team (Rockets). We have to work on things, especially with the way we started the game but it’s something that you can show them tomorrow and get better.”

(On Jordan Hill) “I think he was ok. I think he’s gotta be more consistent. We talked about that. He made some fouls he didn’t have to make. He’s just got to be more consistent in his concentration. He gave the effort and he was effective but you’ve just got to see growth in him.”

YAO MING

(On tonight’s minutes vs. last games) “My minutes were not longer than last time. I feel that both quarters were the same but I don’t feel the same way you feel. I feel both quarters I played about the same. I just tried to do a little bit more running today than I did the first game because I tested myself in the first game.”

COURTNEY LEE

(On his performance) “It was a good performance tonight. Anytime we come out with a win that means we did something good. We still have a lot to learn, a lot to work on and to improve on but for the most part, I feel like I played good as an individual. We played good in certain spurts as a team.”

(On team chemistry) “I’m just observing and watching and getting out there. I think the chemistry is definitely good. Guys are starting to fit and jump into their roles and having to understand what their roles are. Once the season starts everyone will have a better idea of what their roles are and chemistry shouldn’t be a problem.”

KEVIN MARTIN

(On the team’s progress) “We made progress tonight. It’s about keep on ‘building chemistry’ everyday. I think that’s one thing we did tonight. We just stuck with it.”

(On the team’s slow start tonight) “We figure it’s going to be like that just because getting Yao (Ming) into the offense and trying to get him going early. We just need to play everybody and get everybody involved and not key in to one person because Yao (Ming) doesn’t want that and we can tell it’s not good for our offense.”

JORDAN HILL

(On how he played tonight overall) “You definitely could improve on anything. I know that I did make some mistakes out there and luckily it’s preseason and I can look back at the tape and figure out what I can do the next time and correct my mistakes. I just have to go out there and continue to work hard and have fun and do what I have to do to help my team win.”

(On having Yao Ming back) “It feels good. Of course, he’s not 100% yet but he’s definitely still working hard and he knows what he needs to do to help us win. He’s going to get better and he’s going to be back. This is preseason so he can continue to rest that foot and get ready for the season.”

COACH POPOVICH

(on DeJuan Blair) “He's just a good basketball player. He's got an innate feel for the game. He's got great touch and great hands, and because he passes the ball he can play with Timmy. I think he is going to be a very good player for us.”

(on Tony Parker) “Tony looks very fresh. He worked out hard all summer. He is stronger and he worked on his shot. He is very confident right now.”

(on Tim Duncan) “Tim gets slimmer every summer. He realizes that is important. He's done a wonderful job of staying fit.

(on Richard Jefferson) “He's been aggressive which is what we want him to do.

He looked for his shot tonight. They just didn't fall tonight. He's in very good shape and that's what is important right now.”

DEJUAN BLAIR

(on Yao Ming): He's a big dude, that's all I can say. When I saw him I thought “Oh, my Lord!”. He's huge! He knows how to use his body and I tried to use my quickness to my advantage.”

(on Yao's game) “He still trying to get into shape. There is a difference between game shape and practice shape. He will be okay. He still has his touch.”

(on his teardrop shot) “I'm having fun with that shot. Pop likes it and so do I. The opponent doesn't know when it is coming and I try to use that to my advantage.”

TIM DUNCAN

(on DeJuan Blair) “He was anxious to see Yao up close and see the size difference. He used what he's got against him, his speed and his touch.”

(on Yao Ming) “I thought he looked pretty good. He's still working himself into shape, but he still has his touch. The basketball stuff will come with time.”

NOTES

The Rockets took a 90-87 win over San Antonio tonight. Houston returned from as much as 11 points down in the first half to even this outing at 50-50 by halftime. The Rockets also rallied from several double-digit deficits in the first half en route to a 116-109 win last season at San Antonio (1/22/10). Houston trailed by as much as 12 points in the first quarter and faced an 11-point deficit with 4:44 to go in the first half.

The San Antonio reserves came back to account for 45 points tonight compared to 43 points by the Houston bench. In their last visit to Toyota Center, the Spurs reserves outscored the Rockets bench by a 61-4 (-57) count at Houston (2/26/10).

Kevin Martin finished with a game-high 21 points (5-11 FG, 2-3 3FG, 9-11 FT) tonight. Martin recorded 13 20-point outings as a member of the Rockets last season.

Jordan Hill recorded 16 points (6-9 FG, 4-6 FT), three rebounds and one block tonight. Hill’s regular season career high stands at 15 points on a perfect 7-of-7 outing from the field at Indiana (4/4/10).

Chuck Hayes had a game-high 10 rebounds and two blocked shots tonight. Hayes totaled eight double-figure rebounding games last season.

Kyle Lowry dished out a game-high seven assists tonight. Lowry totaled seven or more assists in 14 games in 2009-10 (Rockets record: 9-5).

Yao Ming recorded the first field goal of his return, finishing the night with five points (2-8 FG), seven boards and a game-high three blocks. It marked the most blocked shots by Yao in a game since recording a 2008-09 season-high-tying six blocks at the L.A. Lakers (4/3/09).

This afternoon before the game, the Rockets waived center Jordan Eglseder and center/forward Patrick Sullivan.

Former University of Houston Cougar Marcus Cousin led all San Antonio bench players with 10 points (4-9 FG), a team-high eight rebounds and two blocked shots.

DeJuan Blair led the Spurs in scoring with 12 points (5-11 FG), adding a team-high-tying eight boards and two steals.

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