Rocket fueled pregame thoughts
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It's no secret that tonight's game with the Rockets gets a lot tougher without Lamar Odom in the lineup, but Houston would have made for a burly matchup even if LA had its suspended forward. The Rockets have won 11 of 13, and feature an offense far more streamlined without the medical nightmare formerly known as Tracy McGrady, and given the lack of mobility his bum knee forced on the other end, McGrady might as well have taken the floor wearing a "Kick Me" sign pinned to his jersey. The opposition attacked him at will. Now, an already strong defense has more continuity and is regaining the quality of last year's group.
In short, these guys are playing well, fitting in with a Western Conference that looks (with the exception of a slumping Nuggets squad) a lot tougher now than it did a month or so ago.
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- While the Lakers aren't nearly as effective on the break without Odom, they still need to push the pace. First, it tends to tire out Yao, and it also allows the Lakers to attack the Houston offense and find high percentage looks before the Rockets get set in the halfcourt. When the run outs aren't there and the Lakers do set their O, guys cannot stand still. They have to work to create angles and outlets on drives and move the ball both to limit Yao's ability to standing the post and block shots and for the Rockets to pressure solitary ball handlers left on an island. With Josh Powell likely to start, it's a good night to add a few more pick and pops with JP, and with Pau Gasol to help pull Yao from the block.
- On the other end, be ready for the Rockets to run a little more themselves. Aaron Brooks is lightening quick and can get the ball up the floor in a hurry, and Kyle Lowry is no slouch in that regard, either. The Lakers will have to do what they can to keep those guys out of the lane, and will need to pay particular attention to Brooks, who (as he demonstrated to the Suns) can fill it up. At least initially, I would expect Fish to try and body him up, using his superior strength to try and slow the diminutive Brooks down.
- When they do set things up, the offense is now unquestionably run through Yao. Writes SI.com's Chris Mannix: "...After running a half-court offense through McGrady for a year and a half, Adelman has gone to a more aggressive, running style that features more quick post-ups for 7'6" Yao Ming. The focal point of the offense from 2002--03 to '06--07, Yao had become a secondary option in Adelman's read-and-react attack. Under former coach Jeff Van Gundy the Rockets ran a simple turnout play in which the guard feeds the center in the low post, 15 to 20 times per game; until McGrady got hurt they ran it less than half that many times in most games under Adelman. The generally mild-mannered Yao even began barking along the sideline for more touches. In the last two weeks, though, Adelman has been going to Yao in the post more often, resulting in efforts like Yao's 28 points on 13-for-15 shooting against Cleveland last Thursday. Says Battier, "Yao is our foundation. We know that to win now, we have to go to him early and often."
- It'll be fun to see how the Rockets match up with Kobe Bryant. Shane Battier's work has certainly received a lot of press, but in a revamped rotation and with the Lakers lacking Odom's length, they can afford to switch things up all night between Battier and Ron Artest.
- DJ Mbenga hasn't had a ton of run against higher quality opponents. Tonight he will, and needs to stay out of foul trouble. The bench and non-Gasol supporting cast generally has to step up in Odom's absence. Over the past couple seasons, the Rockets have done as well as anyone limiting Kobe Bryant's efficiency, particularly in his high volume shooting nights. If it comes down to Kobe having to shoot the Lakers to victory, it could be a long night. The other guys, from Fish to Walton to Sasha and beyond, must demand the attention of Houston's D. That gets back to the whole moving thing. Better to facilitate the creation of high percentage looks.