Luis Scola got his groove back on Sunday night against the Jazz.
WHO: Rockets 101, Jazz 85.
WHAT: The Rockets currently sit 7th in the West at 18-14 overall. They improved to a gaudy 12-4 at Toyota Center and dominated the second half against a Jazz team that will likely be a thorn in their backside for a playoff spot as the season winds down. The Rockets’ second half was brilliant, as they outscored Utah 56-39 and had their way with a team that prides itself on toughness, physicality and execution. The Rockets are 6-4 in their last 10 games.
WHAT HAPPENED?: Kyle Lowry and Luis Scola pretty much carried the Rockets to victory, scoring 58 of the team’s 101 points. Both needed this. Badly. Lowry, who has struggled with his shot all season, was absolutely en fuego against the Jazz, hitting 9 of his 13 shots, including 7 of 8 from deep. He also hit all seven of his free throws in a performance that was reminiscent of the Lowry from last season. Scola, however, was arguably the bigger story. Coming off a lethargic last six games (12 ppg, 5 rpg, 11 FGA), he was assertive and aggressive against an impressive Jazz frontline. Scola hit 12 of 20 shots for 26 points, providing headaches for Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin. I’m still concerned that Scola doesn’t attack the rim more and get to the line. He only shot two free throws tonight. It would help if he could put opposing forwards in foul trouble from time to time. But tonight is not the night to picky. He showed up, and did so big time, against a foe that will likely be battling tit for tat with Houston for a playoff spot down the stretch. Defensively, the Rockets adjusted well throughout the game. Dominated in the paint in the first half behind Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, they held the Jazz without a point in the paint in the decisive third quarter when they outscored them 27-18 to take control of the game for good.
WELCOME, GREG!: Undrafted Rockets rookie forward Greg Smith made his debut tonight, fittingly as the Jazz boast a plethora of strength, size and agility in the paint. Smith passed with flying colors, setting great screens, attacking drivers and protecting the rim. He had two points, three rebounds and four blocks in 11 minutes, but he also had five fouls. He’s got to learn to control his body in close-out situations, but that will come. The shot-blocking was awesome, and he showed a quick second-jump for the rebound of his own miss that led to his lone basket of the night. He moves well for someone 6-foot-10, 250 pounds. I’m very excited about Smith.
DALEMBERT HELD OUT OF STARTING LINEUP: Rockets coach Kevin McHale benched Samuel Dalembert after he was late to this morning’s walkthrough, so Patrick Patterson got the start as Houston reverted back to the days of a mini-me starting frontcourt. Patterson didn’t disappoint, with eight points and seven rebounds (four offensive) in 27 minutes, but you have to wonder what’s up with Sammy. Sometimes it seems like his head’s just not in the game. He had four fouls in 17 minutes and also had four points, five rebounds and two blocks. I asked Rockets beat writer Jonathan Feigen after the game if he got the sense Dalembert wasn’t totally invested in the Rockets/McHale, and he said absolutely not. It was just a missed walkthrough, something that’s not a rarity in the NBA. I’m still wary. I’ve heard rumblings from Sixers and Kings fans that Dalembert was known to be lazy and apathetic at times, and while I’ll continue giving him the benefit of the doubt since it’s so early, it is something I’ll watch. He is pivotal (parden the pun) to the Rockets’ success.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?: It was a meaningful win. Simply put, if the Rockets want to be taken seriously as a true threat in the West, they have to start beating the teams they should, teams like the Jazz and Wolves, for example. The way they responded after halftime in that crucial third quarter showed a sense of urgency that is only a sign of going in the right direction. I think we see how Scola’s play opens things up more for Lowry. In the West, you have to have someone who can get you buckets in the paint. Truly, Scola is the Rockets’ only option in that regard, and he showed it tonight. When he’s getting points in close and Lowry’s hitting 3s, the Rockets are a tough team to beat. The Rockets have a big game tonight as Memphis comes to town. Right now, the Grizzlies are tied with the Rockets with an identical 18-14 overall record, and Memphis has the Rockets’ number so far this season by winning both of its games against them.