I hadn't been to the Toyota Center since the first few days of training camp, so I was looking forward to witnessing my first game this year, even if the Rockets came in with a 3-13 home record and had never beaten the Bobcats... like, ever.
So it was nice to see both of those trends bucked with a 102-78 pasting of the 'Cats Wednesday night.
I did not witness Tracy McGrady's best game, and in fact he seems to struggle mightily at home, where he came in averaging just 19 a game (compared to 31 on the road). The big thing is he hasn't been able to hit threes in Houston, knocking down just 21% at home compared to almost 37% on the road. I don't know what it is, but when I watched him miss 3 of his first 4 free throws Wednesday I started to believe he really is uncomfortable here.
Of course, he still managed to score 29 in 29 minutes, thanks to putting up 25 shots and 14 free throw attempts in that span.
The real story of the game though was the performance of the "Scrub Club", who are playing like they need a new nickname. Perhaps the surprisingly strong work of Chuck Hayes has lit a fire under Lonny Baxter, but both of these guys are doing dirty work for the Rockets and it's paying off. Hayes hit all 4 of his shots, going for 11 points, 8 boards, 2 blocks and 2 steals. Meanwhile, Baxter scored 18 to go with 11 boards, 2 steals and a block.
Not to slight Baxter since he had a hell of a game, but Hayes is really sticking out to me. He seems to have a nose for the ball and gets himself in great position for missed shots. While his shorter height (6-foot-6) will pose problems against bigger opponents, the Rockets may have found themselves an NBA rebounder. It's too early to tell, but I'm cautiously optimistic at this point.
If these two guys keep playing like this, Stromile Swift may not have much of a place with the Rockets when he gets back. Certainly his uninspired play won't cut it anymore with Van Gundy.
You know that scene in Hoosiers when Everett fouls out and Coach Dale has no choice but to put Strap in the game, adding, "Don't shoot the ball unless you're under the basket all by yourself"?
That pretty much sums up my policy on Rafer Alston. The last 8 games he's shooting 34% from the floor. Don't, man... just don't.
Now, passing the ball is another story and in the fourth quarter of garbage time he was making some incredible passes to Hayes and Baxter. I think you would see him create a lot more on a team that doesn't have a T-Mac running the show.
The Rockets were just too much though for the Bobcats all night. Houston built up a 16-point lead in the second quarter, watched it wilt to 4 just before the half, then blew them out again in the third period when the Rockets went on a 31-14 blitz. No doubt though that Charlotte was missing Emeka Okafor, Gerald Wallace, Sean May and Kareem Rush -- all of which were out with injuries.
I have to say special thanks to a friend of mine who hooked me up with the tickets. I was sitting about 16 rows up behind the basket -- excellent seats. As for the Toyota Center, that place wasn't dead, but it was coughing and wheezing pretty badly. The guy sitting behind me was complaining about how a 6-pack of beer would average out to cost like $46 there and that he needed a second mortgage to get some peanuts. Not only were half of the seats empty, but it took an act of Congress to get the fans on their feet.
Classic example: At one point, when the arena cameramen were taking random shots of people in the crowd and putting them up on the Jumbotron, I happened to notice that not a soul on our side of the arena was doing a thing. So I picked up those "Thundersticks" that they give out and started banging them, which must have stuck out like a sore thumb.
No exaggeration here -- 5 seconds later my buddy and I were up on the Jumbotron.
There was definitely one point though when I and others were up on our feet -- when Juwan Howard threw down a one-handed hammer in the first half past Primoz Brezec. I had no idea Juwan had it in him, but it was a vicious attack of the basket.