HOUSTON –- It was only one night ago that interim coach Kiki Vandeweghe and Devin Harris applauded the Nets’ effort in making a dramatic comeback only to lose by two at Oklahoma City. The Nets followed that game with effort-free basketball and lost 116-108 to the Rockets in a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the score indicated.
The Rockets dominated and controlled this game with their speed, hustle and one perpetually moving big man that just couldn’t be stopped. Well, maybe he could have if the Nets tried guarding him.
Luis Scola is a strong player, a winning player that any playoff team would love to have. He just works and works and works. Scola has a relentless attitude, which has made him a success in the NBA. But on this night, he didn’t have to work that hard en route to a career-best 44-point game. The Nets gave him whatever he wanted -– layups, spins, stick-backs, open jumpers. And Scola made them pay, hitting on 20-of-25 from the field to hand the Nets a bitter defeat before they went back to New Jersey, 0-4 on this final trip against the Western Conference.
“It was impressive,” Brook Lopez said. “He’s always going, always crashing the boards, getting second and third shots and getting easy buckets. A lot of that’s on us, not boxing out.”
Oh, the Nets did none of that.
Scola should have had 50. The game should have been way out of reach. What kept the Nets in it was Jarvis Hayes duplicating his torrid late-game shooting in Oklahoma City the night before. Hayes scored 14 points in the final 13:35, including 12 in the fourth. But this game belonged to Scola and the Rockets because of how much harder they worked than the Nets.
As we wrote yesterday, there are games where hard work is not going to be enough for the Nets. But this wasn’t one of them.
The Rockets don’t have that much better of a roster than the Nets, if at all. But they beat them, relatively handily, because they have an NBA head coach in Rick Adelman and they have guys committed to doing whatever it takes to win, and that means out-working teams.
Houston lost Yao Ming to injury, Ron Artest to the Lakers and sent Tracy McGrady away before trading him, and the Rockets are 33-31. That happens because of coaching, defense and hustle.
That’s what makes this a tough loss for the Nets, although predictable, too. The Nets were completing a back-to-back where as the Rockets hadn’t played since Tuesday, so they had fresher legs. You could see it.
Besides the effort factor, the Nets lost the game early when they started fast behind Lopez only to see him fizzle. Lopez missed a couple of layups and picked up some fouls he didn’t agree with, including one on Scola about 75 feet from the basket with 35 seconds left in the half. That was Lopez’s third. He tried to stay in the game mentally, but more fouls and another missed layup and you could tell he wasn’t there.
But it wasn’t just Lopez, who finished with 22 points and seven turnovers. It was the Nets’ overall defense and intent on that end of the floor. Scola’s brilliance notwithstanding, the Rockets doubled up the Nets on offensive rebounds (14-7), had a 27-4 advantage on second-chance points, a 23-9 differential in fastbreak points and a 60-42 edge in points in the paint.
“I do think that we got a little bit outworked,” Vandeweghe said.
Not a little bit. Totally.
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)