Hmmm. Steve Francis gets triple-double like numbers and the Rockets lose.
Not a great pattern.
Despite some good numbers from Francis, the Rockets couldn't ever get much of an edge against the Denver Nuggets, losing 104-98 at the Pepsi Center.
It's the Rockets third straight loss -- this after winning 6 in a row.
The Rockets led by as much as 5 points early in the second quarter, but once Denver regained the lead later in that quarter and led by 6 at the half, the Rocks couldn't seem to get much closer than that (6 points).
Ron Mercer (24 points, 6 boards, 4 assists), Nick Van Exel (21 points, 8 assists, 7 rebounds), Antonio McDyess (18 points, 7 boards) and Raef LaFrentz (15 points, 6 boards, 5 blocks) proved to be too much.
Francis had his first career triple double just one night previously against the Warriors, and he finished just one rebound shy of his second tonight.
Numbers for Francis: 27 points, 10 assists, 9 rebounds, 2 steals.
Again, don't want to downplay his big performance, but Franchise also had 6 turnovers and connected on just 9-25 from the floor.
Still a very good game for the rookie point guard, and his numbers continue to rise.
The real good news from the game? Kelvin Cato returned. Cato, in just 15 minutes of play, grabbed 10 rebounds (team high for the game), scored 7 points on 3-3 shooting (including a nice oop from Mobley) and rejected 3 shots.
Matt Bullard hit 7-18 from the floor and finished with 18 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals (who were the Nuggets that have to tell their friends that Matt Bullard picked 'em?).
Bouncing back was Shandon Anderson, who shot 5-11 from the floor, finishing with 12 points, 5 boards, 3 assists and 3 steals. He also committed 4 turnovers...
... in fact, that was one of the team's big problems. They only scored 8 points off the Nuggets 14 turnovers. The Nugz got 19 points off of 18 Rocket turnovers.
Those are killers, especially when the game was lost by 6 points.
In the Francis triple-double hoopla, Cuttino Mobley may have gotten semi-overlooked. In 30 minutes Cat hit 4-10 shots for 10 points, 7 boards and 6 assists. Kenny Thomas hit just 2-6 from the floor for 7 points and 3 boards, and committed 4 turnovers.
The Dream continues to play small minutes. Hakeem Olajuwon logged 15 minutes, scoring 7 points, 4 boards and a pair of blocks. Hakeem's 7 points moved him ahead of former Nugget Alex English and into the Top Ten scorers of All-Time in the NBA with 25,616 points.
Major props to the Unbeatable One ... what an amazing career.
The Denver announcers really harped on how Rudy T and the coaching staff view this season for the Rockets as an "extended training camp". Rudy mentioned before the game that the loss of Charles Barkley, in the long run, has allowed some players to step up and improve their games. (ahem, ahem see Francis, Thomas)
Personally I think Rudy would dispute the training camp remark, but there is certainly some truth to it.
Bullard got "training camp" started with 7 points in the first quarter (what is it with him and hot first quarters?), but Mercer scored 6 of his own and Denver led 23-19 after one.
The Rockets came back though, and after a miss by Mobley (I call it an 'oop) that was slammed in by Cato, the Rockets led 32-27. Denver trimmed the lead back down, then behind Mercer and company, regained the lead and upped it to 46-40 at the break.
After a Bullard three the lead was 49-43 Denver, but the Rockets couldn't get very close. I hate to highlight the opponent, but James Posey's steal then nasty alleyoop off a Van Exel feed on the break was ... well, it was terrifying and I hope none of your kids were watching.
It was 75-67 Denver after three.
Every time the Rockets tried to make a run in the fourth quarter, the Nuggets had the answer. After the Rockets ran off 5 straight, capped by a Bullard three, the lead for the Nuggets was cut to 88-79, and after another jumper by Matt, the score was 90-81 Denver. LaFrentz immediately countered with a three however and it was 93-81 Denver.
The Rockets made a valiant run late, but it wasn't near enough. After two Francis free throws and a Cato hook off the board, the Rockets trimmed the lead to 101-94, but couldn't make enough noise to overtake Denver.