The Rockets offense is still in shambles, but their stellar defense this season is winning them games.
The Rockets put the clamps down on Baron Davis and the Hornets, holding them to less than 36% shooting, as Houston pulled out the 83-74 win in New Orleans Friday night.
The Rockets have the 5th best record in the conference at 11-7, but the West is so insanely strong that only three games separate Houston from the worst record in the conference.
Yao Ming took just 7 shots, hitting 5 of them, to score 15 points and 10 boards. Cuttino Mobley was big with 16 points, including 4 big three-pointers, two of which helped the Rockets seize control of the game in a critical third quarter.
Maurice Taylor was also terrific, coming off the bench to hit 8-10 shots for 17 points. Since Taylor completed his first season as a Rocket, the only thing he's been feasting on is Krispy Kremes and peace pipes, so it's nice to see him in shape and eating up opposing defenses.
Speaking of defenses, the Rockets' was terrific tonight. They held "The Baron" to 6-21 shooting and took away the Hornets' biggest weapon, three-point shooting (New Orleans was 8-26 from long range).
The defensive tempo, I think, was set early on by Kelvin Cato (9 points, 10 boards, 4 blocks).
The Rockets big man had 2 early blocks at the starting power forward position and let Jamaal Magloire and PJ Brown know quickly that this wasn't going to be some walk in the park in the paint.
With Yao and Cato inside, the Rockets perimeter guys can afford to get out on the guards, trying to force them to go inside.
However, the problem is Cato on the offensive end. Teams know he's a liability there and they're completely sagging off of him, daring him to shoot 15 to 17-foot jumpers.
Which, inexplicably, he's doing. Cato missed quite a few jumpers, and was just 3-9 from the floor (with all 3 of those makes coming off slams).
While Cato is now a terrific energy guy, giving the Rockets exactly what they need on the defensive end and on the boards, his offensive limitations as a starting power forward are going to have the Rockets reaching out a great deal to Taylor, or seeking a better fit elsewhere to start.
Jim Jackson hit a clutch three late in the fourth tonight that pretty much took away any chance of a "Do you believe in miracles?!" type comeback from the Hornets. Jackson's return from the flu, along with extended minutes given to Eric Piatkowski, meant no time for Bostjan Nachbar. With Piatkowski now back and healthy and Boki's subpar performance in the rare start against the Jazz, you get the feeling this will be the rotation Van Gundy will stick with for a while.
No time to bask in the big win as the Rockets face an even tougher opponent Saturday night as they come back to the Toyota Center to face Larry Brown's Detroit Pistons.