Originally posted on Fox Sports Houston  |  Last updated 1/29/12
HOUSTON On those nights when the law of averages catches up to the Knicks, when their fascination with straddling the arc and hoisting jumpers feeds their mounting discontent over their inefficient offense, it's easy to wonder what goes through the minds of their opponents. The Rockets knew precisely what was ahead Saturday night at Toyota Center. The Knicks were without All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony, sidelined by a variety of ailments, and were coming off a remarkable shooting performance that produced 18 3-pointers in 43 attempts in a loss at Miami on Friday night. Against the Rockets, like they do against every NBA team, the Knicks were going to fire away from the perimeter. What was required of the Rockets was only marginal defensive stress, especially with the Knicks content to launch far more frequently than attack. Following a sluggish first quarter the Rockets methodically pulled out a 97-84 win that was a case study in defending a bad offense. "We didn't really have to do too much because they're already a team that's going to shoot a lot of threes," Rockets guard Courtney Lee said. "One thing we had to focus on was long rebounds; we didn't want them to get second-chance opportunities from long rebounds. Once you run those guys off the line it's all about having that next man there to help. "A couple times they went to the hole and Sam (Dalembert) was there to distract a lot of shots. That's one thing we wanted to focus on: don't let them get open looks and run them off of the 3-point line. And then we have Big Bert that's his nickname down there trying to block shots." Dalembert fulfilled his role, swatting four shots in 21 minutes. But in truth he was challenged infrequently, a fact amplified by his picking up two fouls in the opening four minutes yet not drawing a third whistle. The Knicks didn't attack the rim they shot just 15 free throws and didn't move the ball, recording a quarter of their 17 assists in garbage time after the Rockets (12-8) had constructed a 20-point lead. What the Knicks (7-13) did was fire a ton of jump shots. They missed 21 of 26 3-pointers. Amar'e Stoudemire, in his past life a ferociously aggressive power forward, needed 20 shots to score a game-high 23 points. He had one dunk of note, blowing past the flat-footed Luis Scola late in the first half, but otherwise took deep jumpers off the pick-and-roll. The Knicks shot 38.2 percent. They were utterly one-dimensional. "It's not puzzling, it was just plain awful," Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni said. "We just can't make a shot and we're not real good. We were just looking for a spark to try and turn things around. I was looking for someone to run the pick-and-roll or just make plays or get people open for shots." Perhaps his search for manna from heaven inspired D'Antoni to put undrafted guard Jeremy Lin, scuffling rookie Iman Shumpert, past-their-prime veterans Jared Jeffries and Mike Bibby, and defensive specialist Tyson Chandler on the floor to close the third quarter. That collective missed three consecutive shots and committed four turnovers during a stretch in which the Rockets turned a six-point margin into a 75-58 lead. The Knicks took at least 25 3-pointers in a game for the eighth time, falling to 2-6 in such contests. While the Knicks' inability to do anything besides stand around and fire away from deep undercut any shot at victory, the Rockets certainly deserved credit for offering enough of a defensive challenge to prevent the Knicks from discovering a rhythm. "(Friday) night they shot 43 threes, so we just said we're going to get a hand up, contest and be tight (on shooters), and get out there and make long close-outs," Rockets guard Kyle Lowry said. "We did a good job of letting them settle and not letting Amar'e get off too much." When the Knicks missed long, the Rockets ran. They scored 16 fast-break points, with the only lead they needed forged by a breakaway dunk from Goran Dragic and a transition layup from Chase Budinger that followed a missed 3-pointer by Bill Walker. Budinger was fouled on that play, converted the subsequent free throw, and the Rockets led 39-31 with 6:54 left in the half. The Knicks closed to within three points four times, but the Rockets silenced them with that 11-0 run. On the heels of producing a season-high 52 points against the Wizards, the Rockets' bench totaled 61 points, 18 rebounds and 10 assists. Budinger and Dragic combined for 35 points and eight assists. Jordan Hill produced his second consecutive double-double (14 points, 11 boards). But it was hard to ignore just how often the Knicks settled for jump shots. In some ways, they made defending easy for the Rockets. "They don't need too much encouragement to shoot perimeter shots," Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. "They seem to gravitate towards that." Follow me on Twitter at moisekapenda
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