Teams and their fans tend to move the bar in a 7 game series:
"Well, we didn't expect to win the first game on the road anyway. We'll get our split in Game 2..."
"Ah, the series doesn't start until a team wins a game on the other team's court. So what if we lost 2? We're going home!"
"Man, terrible refs we should have won that one; there's no way that they're gonna sweep us on our home floor... We can get just as hot as them, happens all the time..."
"What a rip, just wait 'til next year!"
Well, there will be no retrospective shifting of the target tonight for the Houston Rockets, when they take on the Lakers in Game 6 of their Western Conference Semi-Finals series. It will be all the fat lady wrote before she turned out the lights and pronounced the party completed for the undersized overachievers if they can't bounce back from their 40 point Game 5 humiliation. "It's win or go home," as the marketing sorts say on TNT...
When Houston narrowed the gap in this series to 2-2 (sic.), Rocket boosters were boldly professing a long view for this series: anticipating a Game 5 loss on the road, betting the ranch on a Game 6 home win and a "Do-you-believe-in-miracles? YESSSSSS!!!" upset in Game 7 at Staples.
If this be strategy, the Rockets have 'em exactly where they want 'em. They used teamwork to miss every shot imaginable (many of those twice) in Tuesday night's implosion for the ages. You want an overconfident opponent in Game 6? Done and done.
Now it's time to test the theory.
Is the Thursday-After-Mother's-Day Miracle still gonna be happening? Let's listen to the Rocket watchers, shall we?
(More after the jump...)
Click the headlines to read complete stories...
by Jonathan Feigen, Houston Chronicle
The Rockets quickly returned to the familiar themes of the season, grasping at the hope and faith that redemption could be found where it so often has been.
They had gotten this far not with greatness, but with the determination and fortitude to be their best when things seemed to be their worst. Despite being knocked down more often than they cared to remember, they chose to point to all the times they had gotten up, growing stronger and better than before.
The Rockets had never been hit so hard, never defeated more thoroughly than in the Lakers’ 40-point Game 5 pounding on Tuesday. But even before they left Staples Center to return home for tonight’s Game 6, they insisted they could come back again.
"Normally, when we play a bad game, we respond pretty well," guard Aaron Brooks said. "If we keep up with tradition, we’ll be all right."
With resilience more than a one-year tradition, the Rockets have reason to hope it is in their DNA. Down 3-2 in the series, they returned to Houston on Wednesday 15 years to the day after the Rockets turned "Choke City" into "Clutch City," going from what was then the biggest fourth-quarter collapse in NBA playoff history to a comeback win in Phoenix that sent them on their way to their first championship.
They are a long way from a title now, and things could be tougher than when Hakeem Olajuwon and Vernon Maxwell stunned the Suns. The Rockets are just one loss from elimination, as opposed to being down 2-0 as the Rockets were then. And while that team was at full strength, able to take its famous 18-point lead into the fourth quarter of Game 2, the Rockets now must make do with a short-handed roster. * * *
by Brian MacTaggart, Houston Chronicle
His team had just put on a clinic, ripping the overmatched Rockets by 40 points Tuesday night to move within one game of advancing to the Western Conference finals for the second year in a row.
But Phil Jackson was already sending warning signals about how much work about the Los Angeles Lakers had remaining and about how winning Game 6 tonight at the Toyota Center would be difficult.
Just as they bounced back from a terrible performance in Game 4 to hammer the Rockets 118-78 in Game 5, the Lakers expect a different Rockets team to show up tonight.
"We can't take a step back and relax because we're up 3-2," Lakers point guard Derek Fisher said. "We have to get the job done Thursday night and try to close this game out. Elimination games are the toughest ones to get."
The Rockets are 10-1 in their past 11 home games, winning their final six regular-season home games and going 3-0 at home against Portland in the first round of the playoffs. They split their two previous home playoff games in this series.
Meanwhile, the Lakers are 2-5 on the road in their past seven playoff games, dating to last season's NBA Finals when they lost all three games in Boston in the series.
"On the road, (winning) is a lot harder," Lakers forward Pau Gasol said. "Houston is not going to give up, and we know that. They proved that in this series already."
Since the 1985 season, the Lakers have lost only one of the 13 seven-game series in which they led 3-2, blowing a 3-1 lead to the Phoenix Suns in the 2006 playoffs.
"We know what winning on the road in the playoffs is always a tall order," Jackson said. "The games are going to be hotly contested with strong, partisan fans behind their team, and that puts an effort into the team that's playing on the home court and that makes playoffs wins on the road special." * * *
by UofTOrange, The Dream Shake
Brooks/Lowry vs. Fisher/Brown/Farmar - Up,down,up,down, so is the life of a group of young point guards. Brooks and Lowry have looked unstoppable at times in these playoffs, and at other times they've made it look like Rafer Alston is a better choice (say it ain't so!). Currently, with no Yao or Tracy, the Rockets need offense. Without that offense coming from the point guard s lot all is lost. Both players match up well with LA, however it's been their decision making that has made the biggest difference (other than LA just having more firepower) in the losses this series. When they make good, solid decisions, the Rocket have a great chance to win. * * *
Edge: Rockets — It's on these two guys' shoulders
Battier/Wafer/Artest vs. Bryant/Vujacic - Kobe Bryant IS that good. He's that good of an offensive and defensive player. Right now I think he's the 5th to 8th best player of all time. I'm not exaggerating and it's really funny to me that since people don't like him personally they denigrate his greatness. The guy is basically perfect as a basketball player. He is the closest thing to a replacement for Michael Jordan that has ever played in the NBA. Bryant is also possibly the only guy in the league that works harder at his game and physical ability than Yao Ming, and that's really saying something. * * *
Edge: Lakers — Come on, it's Kobe Bryant for goodness sake
Artest/Battier vs. Ariza/Powell - Ron, Ron, Ron, or should I say Ron-Ron? This is your battle to win man. You have the ability, you have the basketball intelligence, it's just odd how you turn that part of your game on and off. This playoff run has been mostly due to you, your shot selection and focus has been off the charts. That is, until Game 5. I know, the game was out of hand and you tried to do too much, I'm cool with it. Now it's time to rein it back in and try to get this to a Game 7, where, yes, anything can happen. * * *
Scola/Landry/Cook vs. Gasol/Odom/Powell — Luis Scola has been a bit MIA this series. He's been hesitant with his shot, something we didn't see in the first round and his defense has dropped off. This needs to be a game where he goes off, 7-10 or so with some spin moves that get Gasol into foul trouble. Get Gasol to the bench early and the Rockets could build a lead. And speaking of Gasol, I would like to openly admit that this series has made me come around on him. I still don't particularly "like him" but I have a healthy amount of respect for him that wasn't there before. He's the only guy other than Bryant that has come to play night in and night out. His motor is silent, but deadly. If Odom plays a lot at the 4, then I expect to see big minutes from Landry. He'll slide to defending the Lakers SF and Artest will guard Odom. That lineup is very much in the Rockets favor.
Hayes/Scola vs. Bynum/Gasol/Mbegna - Bynum has been predictably decent with no true center, or Chuck Hayes on the court. He hasn't blown me away, but to be fair to the guy, he's playing on 75% of a knee. But this matchup comes down to this: Can Chuck Hayes stay out of foul trouble? If he can, this game will be within the Rockets reach late. If he can't, it could be another huge loss. * * *
Edge: Lakers - But Chuck can sway it his way
Prediction: Rockets win, potentially on a last second shot to send shivers of doubt through LA. Or maybe it will be false confidence, I'd actually rather that.
No Layups — Keys to Victory in Game 6
by KIAH-TV, Houston and 1560-AM The Game, Houston
by Brody, Rockets Buzz
* * *
I think Shane Battier said it best: "It's time to man-up or else it's golf time."
The Rockets need to pull out all the stops tonight to push this series to seven games. They need to reacquaint themselves with the hardwood at the Toyota Center, they need to out-muscle and out-hustle the Lakers in the paint, and most of all they need to get back to the basics of Rockets basketball-team defense.
I never thought I'd see the day when this Rockets team faced a deficit greater than 30 points. No matter how bad their shooting, I figured their defense would keep the margin low. Despite having Yao on the bench and Chuck Hayes sitting next to him in foul trouble, Tuesday's loss was devastating because it was so clearly out of character.
With Battier as the face the of the franchise, you're downgrading flash and dazzle in favor of consistency and effort. Houston fans expected more in both areas in Game 5. Let's hope in Game 6 they reclaim their image as players drenched in blood and sweat, both of which were drawn on the defensive end of the floor.
As for their offensive issues, I'll use one my favorite football analogies.
The Rockets, and Aaron Brooks in particular, ran east-west when they should've been running north-south. In Game 4 the Lakers couldn't keep up with the Rockets when they swung the ball around the perimeter.
Game 5 was different. The instances when the Rockets recorded three or more passes without a dribble were fewer, as were their opportunities for open jumpshots. The main reason for this was the penetration that wasn't penetration so much as agitation. Brooks faked inside before popping back and dribbling towards the recipient of the pass then delivering the ball. Ron Artest wheeled around the perimeter before dumping the ball, and Scola or Landry dribbled, pumped and faked before outletting it to a guard.
Removing the wasted dribbles and one-on-one moves would streamline the offense and push the Lakers back on their heels.
So, do the Rockets win tonight? My mind's telling me no, but my body — my body's telling me yes.
No Game Preview But We're Almost Famous!
Houston Channel 39 runs a feature on ClutchFans.net.
** ADDENDA * *
posted by "GMNot" to ClutchFans.net
I don't want to see any players loping up the court (not to name names but Landry does this too often). I rarely see Scola loping up the court. Speaking of Scola, he needs to "get right" tonight. He hasn't shot well since Fisher knocked him silly. Did they accomplish what they wanted by that?
My gut tells me the Rockets will get off to a good start -- which they even did in game 5. But then everything hinges on focus and not making mental errors -- bad passes, bad shots and lack of attacking the basket.
I think Wafer is most effective when the opposing team is a little bedazzled already. Otherwise he is a disaster waiting to happen. (This kid needs some serious work to up his BB IQ this summer.)
I don't agree with Battier's perscription of 30-40 3-pointers. He'd do better to mix it up and drive the basket from the corner more. This will create more space for his 3's in the long run. I know he's isn't the best ball handler, but he has to become more of the offense now with Yao out.
The more aggressive the Rockets are going to the hole tonight, the better chance to get some Lakers in foul trouble. Brooks has to be aggresive but not make bad passes like he did last game. He could get more fouls than he does. With his speed he can create body contact at an angle with most post defenders and get the block instead of a charge.
Good energy + Good focus + No bad passes + No bad shots = Game 7.
The Bottom Line:
1. We can win this thing. It just takes the PGs showing up and Ronnie showing up and Scola showing up and everybody hustling.
2. Not turning the damned ball over so much would be nice, too.
3. Time for some home cooking. This series might well end badly for the Rockets, but it's not gonna end tonight if the team plays the game they are capable of.