Originally posted on Fox Sports Houston  |  Last updated 1/28/12
HOUSTON All the outward signs of professionalism were there, but Rockets forward Chase Budinger could feign only so much indifference. He was dismayed by the lack of playing time that accompanied his demotion from the starting lineup, an emotion he could barely suppress. Given a small window of opportunity to stake his claim to additional minutes, Budinger provided the spark the shaky Rockets needed before they rolled the ragged Wizards 103-76 on Friday night at Toyota Center. After the Rockets (11-8) missed 23 of 30 shots to open the game, Budinger scored eight points during a three-minute burst that helped establish a rhythm. His 21-point explosion seemed to release the pent-up frustration Budinger carried after racking up three consecutive "DNP coach's decision" as coach Kevin McHale shortened his rotation. "Do I know that he was upset he didn't play? Of course," McHale said. "I know when he doesn't play he's very upset. But he worked at his game, and it's funny how when you keep your head down and work really hard and stay professional, when your time comes around it pays off for you. And it did." That opportunity coincided with the loss of shooting guard Kevin Martin, who sat out with right foot plantar fasciitis. Courtney Lee started for Martin, and the minutes Lee siphoned from Budinger after returning from his eight-game hiatus due to a calf strain were suddenly there for the taking. Lee's return against the Pistons on Jan. 17 was the second hit Budinger suffered. He was replaced in the starting lineup by rookie Chandler Parsons 10 days earlier against the Thunder when the coaching staff determined that Parsons' activity was what the Rockets sorely needed. Budinger averaged 21.9 minutes over seven games as a starter. He eclipsed 20 minutes in a game just twice coming off the bench in the eight subsequent games. After playing 12 scoreless minutes against the Hornets on Jan. 19, Budinger lost his spot in the rotation altogether. "It (remaining patient) is a lot (easier) said than done," Budinger said. "Through all those games that I didn't play you've just got to get the extra work in. You just prepare for that opportunity like I had tonight." Aggressive from the moment he relieved Lee with 3:25 left in the first quarter, Budinger nailed a 3-pointer that closed the scoring in that period, scored on a reverse layup that cut the deficit to five points with 8:00 left in the second, and then completed a three-point play that dropped the Wizards (3-16) into a four-point hole with 5:38 left in the first half. Luis Scola helped build that lead to double digits with a flurry of his own in the third quarter, scoring eight points during a five-minute stretch, but it was Budinger who effectively applied the knockout blow. During a 26-2 blitz that saw the Rockets stretch their advantage to an insurmountable 31 points with roughly seven minutes to play, Budinger scored 10 points. He stroked two 3s, threw down a dunk in transition and, as proof of his activity level, converted an offensive rebound into a second-chance basket as the third quarter drew to a close. Budinger had chided his own lack of rebounding as his minutes began to wane, thus his eight boards testified to his commitment to expanding his game. "I was just trying to be more active out there," Budinger said of his season-high rebound total. "Just move around, get on the offensive glass, (and) and just be involved more. That was one thing (McHale) said I was lacking. I wasn't being involved in plays, so that's what I tried to do." Budinger's plus-26 plusminus rating was a season high by a wide margin, easily surpassing his plus-18 against the Hawks on New Year's Eve. That he impacted this victory so significantly doesn't guarantee his sticking in the rotation when Martin returns, whenever that happens. But, considering how often McHale has lamented the difficulty of adjusting his rotation on the fly, Budinger certainly provided reason for McHale to reconsider how the minutes will be allotted moving forward. "That's Chase," Lee said. "The guys is going to provide energy, he's going to knock down open 3s, he's going to get out and run the break. That's just Chase's game, and (Friday) just showed him being a true professional and being ready to go whenever he's called. That's all you can do when you're in that situation: just be ready when your number is called." Of course, there were other things Budinger could have done. Plenty of professional athletes have opted to publicly pout and groan, to let their dismay fester into an open wound in the locker room and on the bench. Budinger had choices on how he could have approached his demotion and subsequent benching. He could have taken the destructive route. That he opted to work hard and prepare for this moment spoke volumes of his character, and it was his character that his teammates celebrated. "Chase made shots for us," McHale said. "He played wonderful defense, really moved his feet well. He rebounded the ball, just played really, really well. But that has nothing to do with anybody besides himself and making himself ready. That's really impressive. "Chase is what professionalism is all about." Follow me on Twitter at moisekapenda
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