The Houston Rockets are now 11-10 on the season and they still have big questions to answer.
Yao Ming was held to just 15 points and 6 boards, Tracy McGrady missed 14 of his 21 shots and the Toronto Raptors used a blistering second half to cruise past the Rockets 93-80 Sunday morning.
Rafer Alston missed the game with a groin injury -- an injury he suffered in practice yesterday. The Rockets didn't miss a beat without him.
At least, early on.
Steve Francis stepped right in, starting in Alston's absence, and the Rockets jumped all over the Raptors to take a 16-2 lead out of the gate. By half they led 45-34.
That's when the wheels came off, the car hit a village, the village burned down and no one called 911.
Toronto came out to start the third with adjustments, significantly upgrading their defensive intensity. The Rockets aggressiveness went in the tank. When all was said and done, the Raptors had jacked up the Rockets to the tune of a 58-35 second half.
Was this loss due to Rafer's absence? His supporters will no doubt chalk it up to that, and sure, there were problems in the third quarter where Rafer could have helped. Francis was slow to bring the ball up, picked up his dribble too early and held on to the ball at times when he should have shot it, resulting in at least one 3-second violation.
But there were big problems in this one that were unrelated to the point guard play.
The Rockets were dominated -- and I mean dominated -- on the offensive glass. The edge was 18-8, but 5 of the Rockets offensive boards were on one possession by Carl Landry as he kept grabbing his own misses.
Toronto's bench just had it's way -- Kris Humphries (16 points on 6-9 shooting, 9 boards) and Jason Kapono (5-7, 10 points) might have taken some of the Rockets players home to keep as pets.
Landry getting playing time (10 non-garbage time minutes) is no doubt a good sign about his progress, but I was confused why Adelman would turn to the rookie in a game like this -- especially when you consider that the Rockets head coach is still trying to find the right balance between Luis Scola and Chuck Hayes at the position.
Mike James - wow. The Rockets are still getting little to nothing out of him. Say what you want about his point guard play, Mike James has been a good to great shooter -- until now. James was 1-6 from the floor and is now at 36.7% from the field and 33.8% from the arc on the year. This is one of the true head-scratchers of the season so far.
But the worst news was just watching the Rockets two superstars curl up into the fetal position when things got rough in the second half. T-Mac took a handful of quick (and bad) shots and his body language in the third quarter (a look of frustration at his teammates) was troubling. Yao was outmatched on the boards.