Highest plus/minus: Darius Songaila, Nick Young, Dominic McGuire (+6).
Lowest plus/minus: Caron Butler (-17).
I have to admit, it was weird watching that Rockets team last night. They looked like some sort of hybrid between a Jeff Van Gundy team and a Rick Adelman team, which is kind of the ultimate goal for them. When I projected them to be a juggernaut coming into the season, that was the type of team I envisioned. The final score was only an 8-point margin, but it certainly felt like a blowout. Only strong play in the second quarter by the much-maligned reserves kept the Wizards in the game.
I think this was one game where we really missed Gilbert Arenas. The Rockets have two extremely physical forward defenders in Shane Battier and Chuck Hayes. Each completely took Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison, respectively, out of the game, with a nice assist from the big fella patrolling the paint. Butler, in particular, never got any open room to shoot a stepback jumper. Oh, he tried, but Shane Battier was right there in his face. Butler did try on occasion to drive to the rim, but Battier was doing a phenomenal job angling him off to Yao, who, at 7'6'', bothered all of his drives. Perhaps Battier and Yao were angry about this play from last year.
As for Hayes, he really impressed me with his defense on Jamison. When Jamison was setting up, Hayes pushed him away from the basket, and he didn't let Jamison spin inside him for his little flip shot. Offensively, he made really good cuts that opened up space for Yao and the Rocket guards. I think we'd benefit a lot having a guy like Hayes on our team, but alas, we don't.
Now, normally, we'd counter by exploiting their small guards defensively by using Gilbert extensively. Rafer Alston and Luther Head are both small guys that can't really guard the stronger offensive options one-on-one. Alas, Antonio Daniels isn't that type of player, and DeShawn Stevenson did horribly every time he tried to post either guy up. About the only player who was effective was Nick Young, but once the Rockets switched Bonzi Wells on him, Young became a lot less effective. With Gilbert, we could have punished the Rockets for playing small, but without him, that was a weakness in which we couldn't take advantage.
I was impressed by Young's scoring ability, and Brendan Haywood, despite giving up lots of size, played a very nice game, both when he was guarding Yao Ming and on the offensive end. But otherwise, we're just too small everywhere to deal with this team. In the backcourt, I felt Eddie gave too many minutes to Roger Mason, when it might have paid to go with Young and Stevenson and try to post up Houston's small guards. Up front, we didn't have the muscle to deal with Hayes, Luis Scola, and Bonzi Wells, especially with Darius Songaila hanging too much on the perimeter (again). With Gilbert, perhaps he scores enough to sneak us a win, but without him, we're toast against big teams.