You knew the young Rockets were in for a test against last year's Eastern Conference Champion Knicks...
... and they just didn't measure up in the end.
Latrell Sprewell, Allan Houston and Patrick Ewing all scored 20 points or more as the New York squad shot nearly 53%, beating the Rocks on their home floor 101-90.
The Rockets lost for the fourth straight time, but the story wasn't the loss, but rather Rudy T (unbelievably) shaking up his starting lineup.
As has happened with Kenny Smith and Matt Maloney in the past, Rudy waited and waited and waited through a players' stretch of dismal play, and finally snapped, pulling Walt Williams from the starting lineup.
And as it happened in the case of Smith and Maloney, Williams instantly went from starter to no playing time at all.
Rudy downplayed it after the game, citing matchups against the Knicks, but that's most likely a smoke screen.
It appeared he also was sending a message to young Rocket center Kelvin Cato, who has been extremely unimpressive lately. Rudy started Thomas Hamilton (8 points) in place of Cato, perhaps in an effort to light a fire under the 25-year old center.
Cato played 20 minutes off the bench, hitting just 1-4 and grabbed just 2 boards. He did block a pair of shots.
Rudy's Doghouse is not a place you want to be if you're a member of the Rockets... and it may just be that Walt Williams is there now.
Steve Francis led the Rockets with 20 points on 7-17 shooting to go with 5 assists, 4 boards and just 2 turnovers. His backup, Bryce Drew, didn't have much luck in 9 minutes, tallying nothing in the points column after missing both his shots.
Cuttino Mobley finally got the start at 2-guard, hitting 6-16 shots for 14 points. He played nearly the entire game (45 minutes). Shandon Anderson, who usually starts alongside Francis at the 2, moved to the 3 to take Williams' place. He hit 5-9 shots for 12 points and 3 assists, but turned it over 4 times.
Matt Bullard, who has been a terror this season from the three-point line, hit another 3 threes in 4 attempts, pushing his league-leading three-point percentage to over 58%. He finished with 12 points and 6 boards.
Also playing well off the bench was Kenny Thomas, who hasn't been afraid to put the rock up. Kenny hit 5-10 shots for 12 points and 6 boards in 23 minutes.
Carlos Rogers scored 8 points and grabbed 8 boards as a starter.
The Rockets are in a rut. After three straight wins, the loss of Charles Barkley has proved huge as the result has been a 4-game losing streak since. They're young and they've got a long ways to go, but knowing Rudy is now willing to shuffle things up a bit gives some hope. There simply was no change in the starting lineup game after game and it was long overdue to see Walt pulled. Hopefully it will light a fire under the streaky forward, but regardless, it's good to see Rudy experimenting with different lineups.