ROCKETS 117, PACERS 99
HOUSTON – Why Chuck Hayes? How come a franchise-record 16 straight Houston Rockets victories? What sense does it make? It’s all about unselfishness.
There’s a real team in downtown Houston. They play together. They pull for each other. They now have the most consecutive NBA victories that any Rockets team ever has fabricated. Yet after the 16th straight win – 117-99 over the outmanned Indiana Pacers on Wednesday night at Toyota Center – another streak entered into the Rockets’ minds.
The Rockets are on a six-game head-to-head losing streak against the Dallas Mavericks. They will try to reverse that skid in the second half of a TNT national doubleheader game in the American Airlines Center tonight at 8:30 p.m. It may help considerably that Dallas will go to war without their leading weapon Dirk Nowitzki, who was suspended for a game earlier in the day by the league office for his actions in Monday night’s game at Utah.
It also may work in Houston’s favor that Rockets coach Rick Adelman was able to limit Dikembe Mutombo to under eight minutes (7:45) of playing time and Luis Scola to under 22 minutes (21:43). But the Rockets will not care that they reached a season-high 66 first-half points. They won’t really be all lathered up that Chuck Hayes delivered a season-high 9 points and 11 rebounds.
They will be very glad that Chuck’s OK, though. Hayes came down from a rebound on an opposing player’s foot right before the first half, turning an ankle.
But here’s the most important thing. It’s called the unselfishness which Adelman and his players mention constantly.
Before you could say Rockets owner Les Alexander, at least of three of Chuck’s teammates would run out onto the court and be right at his side, checking on his condition.
“I saw that and it really sent me a special message,” Hayes said. “That’s the thing about this team. We really pull for each other. Plus, we know right now that with Yao (Ming) out, this team can’t afford to lose anyone else.”
Hayes felt his ankle would be a “little sore” on Thursday morning, but his presence came in handy when a few of Houston’s front-court regulars gave far below their greatest performances.
“We moved the ball well as a team,” Hayes said. “We did tonight, it was great. It shows how unselfish we are.”
It also shows why Rockets’ coach Rick Adelman deserves his newest award as NBA coach of the month for February. The Adelman approach to constant ball movement is making more and more of an impression on his players. It’s turning Tracy McGrady into an even better than he has been throughout his career.
McGrady was truly outstanding with 25 points, including 23 in the first half. It marked Tracy’s first 20-point opening half since he collected 21 against Denver last November.
“It’s all about confidence,” T-Mac said. “We’ve got a great chemistry and we’re playing so well. The guys really believe in each other. They’re hustling for loose balls. They’re doing whatever it takes to win.
“It’s history. We’re going to be in the books for a long, long time. Tonight was a short-term goal we had that we wanted to accomplish. We got it done tonight but it doesn’t stop there. We want to keep it moving. We don’t want to become complacent. We want to keep our eyes on the prize and win a championship. I think the way we pull together as a team is the best that I’ve ever been a part of. We get along.”
Indiana made a nice third-quarter run at the Rockets, trimming a 66-49 halftime deficit to 79-71 midway in the third. At a crucial moment when momentum could have shifted, T-Mac would display a new-found unselfish maturity that had to delight Adelman.
Spunky rookie Carl Landry missed a layup. Crafty veteran Shane Battier grabbed an offensive rebound and passed it around to McGrady. Tracy drew his defender into the air, but chose to pass up his shot. Instead, T-Mac opted for the extra pass to Scola who sank a layup from the left baseline. The play gave the Rockets a 90-76 cushion and the Pacers never came within 12 points for the rest of the night.
Five Rockets finished in double-figures – McGrady 25, Rafer Alston 21, Luther Head 14, Scola and Landry with 13 each.
More importantly than many of those points were the minutes Adelman got from bench-warmer Hayes. Chuck played nearly 30 minutes (29:19) on the first of a tough back-to-back. It certainly was appreciated greatly his Chuck’s coach.
“Chuck was terrific,” Adelman said. “He kind of set the tone for us when he came in the game defensively. He just established a presence in there and around the basket. I thought he really changed things up when he came in.”
A few witnesses in the sellout crowd of 18,160 might have noticed, too.