WHO: Rockets 88, Raptors 85.
WHAT: The Rockets are now tied with Dallas for 4th in the West as each boasts a 21-14 record. The win marked the surging Rockets’ fourth in a row, and 18th in the last 25 games. Houston has been blistering on its home floor, winning 15 of 19 at Toyota Center so far. That’s a big reason why it’s important they push hard for homecourt advantage in the first round, as they’re just 6-10 on the road, and 8 of their next 12 games are away from H-Town.
WHAT HAPPENED?: This one was a lot closer than it should have been against the lowly Raptors, who entered the game at 10-23 and without their dominant big man Andres Bargnani (24 ppg). But in a season that has been marred by players’ performances in midst of trade rumors (see: Martin, Kevin; or, Odom, Lamar), Kyle Lowry continues to play through it all, and thrive as well. Lowry – constantly in rumors that have him in some sort of deal for the Lakers’ Pau Gasol – had 26 points on 8 of 12 shooting and they needed every bit of his 4-for-4 3-point shooting and 6-of-7 on free throws. The Rockets, who led by 12 after the first quarter and by 9 at halftime, won this on defense in the end, with huge play from Chandler Parsons (a key offensive rebound and clutch charge taken), despite being dominate statistically. The Kings shot 46.7 percent to Houston’s 38.7; they had 47 rebounds to Houston’s 37.
FRONTCOURT POWER: Encouraging performances from the Rockets’ starting frontcourt. Luis Scola (15 points, 10 rebounds) nabbed his second double-double in as many games, and, perhaps more importantly, Samuel Dalembert stayed out of foul trouble and contributed a strong 27 minutes with 10 points, three rebounds and two blocks. Scola didn’t shoot well (5-for-12), but did hit 5 of 6 free throws, and Dalembert’s mere presence is enough to dissuade penetration.
MARTIN OFF .. AGAIN: The Houston Chronicle’s Jonathan Feigen mentioned in a chat yesterday that he didn’t think Kevin Martin was struggling. By the numbers, no, he’s not. But the game is more than numbers, and I’m worried that the team beat writer can’t see that this isn’t the same Martin who has gone through mood swings since word got out he would have been traded to the Hornets in the Chris Paul deal. Tuesday was yet another example of too many poor games from the once impressive all-around offensive threat. Martin missed 12 of his 15 field goal attempts and tallied more turnovers (3) than assists (2). At some point, this has to be a concern to the Rockets’ front office, especially when you consider his backup Courtney Lee is producing more consistently on both ends of the floor. If you’re not going to trade Martin, fine, but don’t play him 31 minutes (as was the case Tuesday) when he’s not doing the only thing on the floor he’s capable of doing at a competent level.
ROCKETS’ DIAPER DANDIES UPDATE: Rockets’ undrafted free agent power forward Greg Smith played his third game as a Rocket Tuesday, logging 3 minutes, 22 seconds. He did not compile anything else in the stat column. Marcus Morris, the team’s 14th pick last summer, did not play, but was active.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?: The wins puts a 5-1 cap on the six-game homestand. They’ve gone 8-2 against the East, and tonight’s game at Utah looms big if they want to keep pushing the Jazz further and further back in the rearview mirror. The win is also encouraging in that it proves the Rockets can win games when they’re far from their best, a sign of any good team. The last few games have gone down to the final minutes, and the Rockets have prevailed in all – against quality comp aside from the Raptors – by tightening the defense and making enough plays offensively down the stretch. As ugly of a win as tonight was, it was beautiful knowing Houston is getting more acclimated at finding ways to win games. And it’s becoming more and more clear that Lowry is perfectly comfortable in the go-to role at the end of games, as he has assumed responsibility for a job that should be Martin’s or Scola’s.