News and Notes: Rockets focus on following up big win over Lakers with continued excellence

Thursday December 2, 2010 4:58 PM

News and Notes

Rockets focus on following up win over Lakers with continued excellence

Jason Friedman

HOUSTON - It’s amazing what a win over the Lakers does for the denizens of Toyota Center. There’s just something about beating L.A. that lightens the mood and puts an extra hop in everyone’s step.

That certainly was the case Thursday as the Rockets returned to the practice court following Wednesday night’s stirring 109-99 victory over the hated Lakers. The laughter, so hard to come by during the team’s rocky start, was flowing free and fast, and the heavy burden of being behind the 8-ball so early in the season was noticeably lighter as well.

Adding further levity to the proceedings was the return of Yao Ming, who made it through his first full-contact practice since injuring his left ankle November 10 against the Washington Wizards. The 7-time All-Star center reported no ill effects after the hour-long workout, and though Houston’s December 7 date with Detroit is still more a tentative target for his return than a firm one, Yao continues to be pleased with his progress, even joking that he came to practice ready to scrimmage 5-on-5 full-court, but head coach Rick Adelman wouldn’t allow it because the rest of the team played 15 hours ago and needed its rest.

“I feel my body is not heavy,” he said. “That’s good news. I can’t say my ankle is 100 percent but it’s close. It’s just weakness, there’s no pain there.”

Until his return, the Rockets will continue to get by at the 5-spot by milking the talents of Chuck Hayes, Brad Miller and Jordan Hill, the latter of whom has been making significant strides as of late – in no small part thanks to the tutelage of the aforementioned vets ready and willing to use their treasure trove of experience in an effort to guide the second-year forward every step of the way.

“It’s good because Brad, Chuck, Yao and Luis if they see something I need to work on then they’ll pull me to the side and let me know,” says Hill. “We’ve been doing that since training camp, so I’m just trying to take it slowly and make sure I get it.”

Hill has been rolling on the offensive side of the ball where he’s scored in double-figures 4 straight games while displaying flashes of dominance on the offensive glass. But it’s on the defensive end where this team needs him the most right now because his length and athleticism are unique among his Rockets teammates. Here, too, Hill has made major progress, bringing the consistent, night-in and night-out energy and aggressiveness that were occasionally lacking at the start of the season. Now it’s time for the next step in his development: tapping into his inner hoops matrix in order to better read, react and respond to an opponent’s plan of attack in real time.

“(Jordan) is getting better,” says Adelman. “We’re trying to just make sure he does things like going to his strengths. Be around the rim all the time, that’s what we want him to do at both ends of the court. Defensively, he’s really got to make a statement. A lot of his problem is he’s young, he doesn’t see the play coming at him quick enough. He’s got to get that down and we’ve been working with him in practice and showing him film. The fourth quarter last night he was very good guarding (Pau) Gasol and helping his teammates.

“Jordan just has to keep his concentration. When a team is running a play, he’s got to know what they’re running – he can’t just be a reactionary guy. All our young people that’s what we’re talking to them about. You’ve got to know exactly what’s going on so you can anticipate it. It’s improving and we’re trying to work at it every day.”

Following practice, the Rockets flew to Memphis in preparation for Friday night’s showdown with the rapidly-improving Grizzlies. It’s a huge game for a whole host of reasons as the Rockets seek to continue their slow, steady climb back to the .500 mark. And while the thrill of taking down the Lakers is still fresh in everyone’s minds, so too is the knowledge that it will mean next to nothing if the club can’t deliver a similarly sterling encore performance.

“This game is, in many ways, more important than the Lakers game,” says Shane Battier. “They’re in our division and they’re ahead of us in the standings and if we want to start climbing the standings we need to start beating the teams that are ahead of us.”

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