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Tuesday March 1, 2011 5:14 PM

News And Notes


One-on-one with Kevin Martin, Hayes excited for matchup with Aldridge and injury updates for Scola, Dragic

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com

PORTLAND - Nearly everything about Kevin Martin is quiet.

He speaks softly and, as a general rule, prefers the shadows to the spotlight. Heck, his head coach even describes his prolific scoring as “quiet.”

But don’t let the silent act fool you. After all, you can put a silencer on a Smith and Wesson, but that doesn’t make the weapon any less lethal. And make no mistake, Martin’s uber efficient offensive game has been especially deadly this season.

The numbers practically leap off the page: No. 1 in the NBA in scoring average per 48 minutes (35.6 ppg); No. 1 overall in total free throws made (451); No. 3 overall in total 3-pointers made (131); No. 5 overall in true shooting percentage (.613).

Dig deeper and the awe factor only increases. Martin is on pace to post a career high player efficiency rating and it’s due in large part not only to his uncanny ability to draw fouls at high volume, but also because of his exemplary play in iso, spot up and transition situations. With regard to the latter he has been especially brilliant, producing 1.481 points per possession, according to Synergy Sports Technology.

Of course, fans who have watched Martin play this season don’t require powerful number crunching to know how good he is on the break; they’ve seen the way he finds an open area beyond the 3-point arc when the Rockets are running, and they know that once the ball finds him, the ensuing shot is as reliable as a layup.

Needless to say, Martin’s play has spoken volumes this season. And on the heels of his well-deserved Western Conference Player of the Week honor, Rockets.com sat down with him to give the man himself an opportunity to do some talking as well.

JCF: Is this the best you’ve ever played in your NBA career?

KM: I think from the aspect of doing everything and having more of an all-around game, then that’s probably safe to say. We’re winning lately and I’m doing a lot of other things (besides just scoring), so it’s probably accurate to say that.

JCF: What are those things you’re referring to?

KM: I’m just trying to bring leadership to the team and trying to keep guys in the game. I’m doing what I do in the flow of the game, not forcing anything, and I’m also getting steals, playing with a sense of urgency, doing some rebounding, and really trying to focus on the intangibles.

JCF: With Shane Battier having been traded, do you feel more of a responsibility to be more of a leader for this team?

KM: Yeah, I do, along with a couple other guys who feel that responsibility also. This is my 7th season in the league and of all the people on this team, I’ve got the most playing experience, which was kind of a shocker to me – it was a little bit of a wake up call that I have to be the guy to help this team out.

JCF: Do you feel comfortable in that role? I know there are different kinds of leadership and you’ve always struck me as a guy who’s quiet and who leads by example. I know that rah-rah type of leadership is often overblown, and you’re definitely more the type to take a professional approach and show people how it’s supposed to be done with your actions, not necessarily your words.

KM: Yeah, there are definitely different types of leaders and, first and foremost, I am who I am: I’m a guy who leads by example and approaches the game professionally. That’s how I was in Sacramento. I was only in my fourth or fifth year there when I was asked to lead that team in a rah-rah way and helping guys in that way. As a young player, I wasn’t ready for that. That’s more for a Shane Battier type, or somebody who has had a lot of success in the league.

But now, further in my career, I’ve basically seen it all in this league. I’m getting better adjusted to that role and I feel comfortable doing more of that now.

JCF: How much does individual recognition mean to you? Being named Western Conference Player of the Week – is that something you even care about?

KM: With me, I just play this game because I love it. That might be a funny thing to say and it might be cliché, but that’s how I’ve always treated it: I play this game because I love it. To get recognized and things like that, it’s good, but at the end of the day it’s how I feel about my game and how I match up against other shooting guards in the league.

This is more like a comeback year for me. I’m just trying to stay healthy because I always felt like the way I fit in this system and how it complements me, that I am the third best shooting guard in this league. So this has really been a statement year for me in terms of proving that and trying to lead this team to victories. That’s just how I feel.

JCF: I assume when you say you’re the third best you’re putting yourself behind Kobe and D-Wade?

KM: Yeah, let’s just be realistic. I have to give that to Kobe and D-Wade. But when healthy, I always felt like man-to-man I could match up with anybody.

JCF: It’s no secret that you have an uncanny knack for drawing fouls. Does it surprise even you that defenders still seem to fall for some of your “tricks?” Like when you’re standing at the 3-point line with the ball and defenders reach in, giving you the perfect opportunity to raise up, draw contact and head to the line for three free throws. I mean, it’s amazing that this day in age with all the scouting and everything else teams do that people still fall into that trap seemingly once per game.

KM: It does surprise me. Especially since I’m five years into doing what I do, because I started going to the free throw line a lot during my third year in the league. Now I’m in my 7th year; the scouting report hasn’t changed since then – I’m still trying to draw contact. But I don’t know, I guess some teams feel like if they have the hand out, I’m just going to shoot the three.

JCF: I know how hard you worked this summer to get to this point. How much gratification do you feel having all that work pay off like this?

KM: Well I’m back to being more explosive – I think this year I have more dunks than I had in the last three years combined, since I messed up my ankle. But it’s only gratifying to a certain point. I came here and I was so excited to play with Yao and the team they had here. So I’d feel a lot better about what I’ve one this year if he was playing and if AB hadn’t been injured and everything else. We had a squad that really could have done some damage and I feel bad that didn’t work out.

So now it’s the next phase to see what else we can bring in down the line to get us over that hump. Hopefully Yao will be able to come back I’ll have the opportunity to play with a player like that and this team can get to where it deserves to be and where all the fans want us to be.

JCF: Last question. What’s next for the evolution of Kevin Martin, the basketball player?

KM: I just need to keep on getting better in every area of the game. I really don’t have any specific personal goals in my NBA career besides getting as many wins in this league as I possibly can.

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Looking for the key matchup tonight as the Rockets get ready to take on the Portland Trailblazers? Look no further than the showdown set to take place between Chuck Hayes and LaMarcus Aldridge. Hayes was out with an injured ankle during the team’s two previous meetings this season and his absence was a killer as Portland’s power forward torched Houston in each game – both Blazers victories.

Tonight, however, the Chuckwagon will get a chance to work his magic and Hayes has historically had all the answers when facing Aldridge in the past. That said, Aldridge has taken his game to new heights this season as he’s started to fully realize the immense potential which had previously seemed perpetually just beyond his grasp. That is the case no longer, however, as Aldridge has been downright dominant over the course of the last couple months. Hayes has taken notice and he can’t wait to take embrace this new challenge head on.

“I’m excited. He’s a good player and he’s playing really well right now. Right now he’s probably playing the best basketball of his career and I’m excited for the challenge. I’ve been looking forward to this game since All Star weekend. I want to see how much better he is.

“He’s more aggressive going into the paint, especially on the left block and getting into the middle. He has a turnaround jumper; one he used to rely on. Now, that turnaround jumper is his last resort. He’s just playing super aggressive. He’s stepped up for his team and played really well when [Brandon] Roy was out and now he’s that guy for them. So I’m excited to play against him.

“I’m not going to change the way I’ve always played him but I might change within the game. The way he’s playing right now, that’s against other people – that’s not against me. So I’m going to use the same tactics I’ve used before against him. If it works I’ll keep doing it and if I notice that his game has gotten better to the point where can now counter that, then I’ll come up with a different plan.”

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Last but not least, the Rockets figure to be at full strength for Tuesday night’s matchup against the Blazers. Luis Scola took part in the morning shootaround and declared himself good to go after suffering a mild knee sprain Sunday night in New Orleans. Also, Goran Dragic has recovered from a bout of food poisoning and will be active as well.

Got a question for Rockets.com? Send it to Jason Friedman. And for up to the second news and injury updates follow the Rockets and Jason on Twitter.