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News » Rockets stumble into long, tough road trip

Rockets stumble into long, tough road trip

Rockets stumble into long, tough road trip
Jan. 1--TORONTO -- The idea was never to enter a 5,800-mile, five-game, nine-day road trip limping, but then this NBA season has mocked the Rockets' notions of what would be.

The Rockets' health, however, was not the issue that had them troubled.

The injuries do remain an intractable issue. Tracy McGrady plans to play in only three of the next six games, sitting out one game in each back-to-back to rest his sore left knee. Shane Battier is out for at least the next five. Ron Artest needed to skip a game after the Rockets' last set of four games in five nights and is unsure how he will react to playing four in six, or if he plays them all, to taking on six games in nine nights.

The rehab the Rockets spoke most of needing, however, is not to be found in the training room.

Perhaps having grown weary of the injury issues or simply looking to the daunting schedule ahead, the Rockets hit the road thinking of how they are playing rather than who is playing.

After a homestand spent getting knocked sideways by the uninspired loss to the Wizards and unsatisfying win against the Bucks, the defense has been shaky; the offense has crumbled badly in four-consecutive fourth quarters. At a time they need to pick up speed -- as they did when the calendar changed last season -- the Rockets seem to be slowing and breaking down with the speed bumps.

"The most important game of the road trip is the last game you have at home because it gives you a good feeling about going out and trying to battle other teams in their building," Rockets guard Brent Barry said. "It was important for us to get the win. I don't think we're too happy about the entire way we played."

Though there has been talk about intensity and energy, with point guard Rafer Alston even saying the team has lacked last season's accountability and urgency, there have been obvious tactical breakdowns, particularly offensively. Slowed to a halt in portions of several games by a tendency to go one-on-one rather than run the offense, the Rockets have little time for fine tuning.

"You don't have much practice (only one is scheduled until Jan. 12)," center Yao Ming said. "You don't have much time to figure out those problems, the mistakes that happen in the last game. On the road, you get in late. You're tired. You want to go to sleep. You don't have time to think about it.

"The road trip will be tough, five games. I don't know what we have for the next five games. But we still have to play. We have to figure out a way."

There is a great deal to consider. In the fourth quarter of the Rockets' past four games, the Rockets have averaged 19 points in the fourth quarter, twice going through 0-for-9 stretches, making 1 of 9 shots in a stretch against the Wizards and going 5 of 13 through the fourth quarter on Wednesday against the Bucks.

"Whether we're working on it in practice or playing it in a game, the offense is predicated on ball movement or people movement," Barry said. "There are times in the game where we get really lackadaisical with sometimes both of those things. With the offense, if you don't do either of those things, it's not going to work.

"We have to involve ourselves more to the offense so that there's a flow to it and we can play in a rhythm. A lot of times, we're not in a good offensive rhythm."

The Rockets did win two of the three games of the homestand, but struggled so badly in the fourth quarter of the double-overtime win against the Jazz and the New Year's Eve win against the Bucks that there was a sense their level of play won't do on the road. They face the stronger teams, the Hawks and Celtics, in the second half of back-to-backs, after playing the struggling Raptors and 76ers following off days.

"When we're on the road, we just have to bring our 'A' game," McGrady said. "We can't allow those kinds of mishaps across the course of the game. We just have to stay focused, go out for 48 minutes."

The Rockets, however, are 10-8 on the road this season and had a 13-game road winning streak against Eastern Conference teams until their loss in Cleveland Dec. 23. Their two-game road losing streak is their longest of the season.

"I think it can happen," Rick Aldelman said. "I've been in so many situations when you least expect it, you win games. You look at what is going to be a tough part of the schedule and this team has been resilient. It hasn't been very often they've had games like (Monday's loss).

"It's on the road you can build a season. We've been successful on the road and that's what we have to try to do. We have to try to win some games on this trip because when we get back from this trip, we're home for awhile. We have some time. It's not going to be easy. We have to play a lot better than we played the last couple games."

That is the plan, even if this season little has gone as planned.

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Added: January 3, 2009


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