If some Clippers woke up this morning with a sore neck, there is a good reason.
The Houston Rockets began their New Year’s celebration a little early Thursday night with so many high-flying dunks, it’s amazing they shot only 53.2% in crushing the Clippers, 122-100, before 15,057 at Compaq Center.
With rookie point guard Steve Francis setting the table, the Rockets had so many highlight plays, it’s a good bet a Clipper will be in the background in the team’s photo album for this season.
“It really bothers me with the way we’re losing,” said power forward Maurice Taylor, who set a career high with 31 points on 13-for-22 shooting from the field. “When you are losing to teams that you are supposed to beat, it should bother you. If it doesn’t, something is wrong.
“Everybody has to be on the same page and everybody has to play . . . we simply have to get more out of [center] Michael [Olowokandi]. He’s not protecting the basket. He’s not doing much on offense. He’s not doing nothing right now. I don’t know if anyone else is going to say anything, but I don’t care. He has to step up because right now he’s nonexistent.”
Olowokandi has been bothered by a nagging injury to his left knee the last month and has become a soft player in the middle because he’s trying to stay out of foul trouble.
Against the Rockets, Olowokandi had six blocked shots but only four points and four rebounds in 25 minutes.
“I don’t know if people are scared to say something or not, but that’s the bottom line,” Taylor said about the Clippers’ second-year center. “We can’t go out and win with just four guys playing.”
Aside from Taylor’s scoring and Eric Piatkowski’s 24 points off the bench, the Clippers, who dropped their second game in a row and fell to 9-20 overall, did not have much to brag about to close 1999.
In his second game against fellow rookie Francis this season, Lamar Odom had his first triple double with 10 points, 10 assists and 13 rebounds but was two for 13 from the field and had four turnovers.
“Stevie’s my man and he had a good game,” Odom said of Francis, who had 19 points, 11 assists and only two turnovers. “He was rookie of the year tonight.”
After losing by 23 points in a weak effort at Denver on Tuesday, the Clippers dropped their level of play to a new low against the Rockets, who were playing without injured veterans Charles Barkley and Hakeem Olajuwon.
“Boy, did we need one like this,” said Houston Coach Rudy Tomjanovich, whose team had lost eight of its previous 10 games. “I loved the way we did it.”
The Rockets, who are 10-20 and 6-9 at home this season, had their way after playing the Clippers to a 19-19 tie over the first six minutes of the game.
Houston put together a 17-2 run to close the first quarter with a 36-23 lead. In the second period, the Clippers played better but still trailed by 12 points at halftime.
The Rockets, who outscored the Clippers in the paint, 76-28, blew the game open in the third quarter by outscoring the Clippers, 36-26, and the fourth was 12 minutes of garbage time.
“We were playing good basketball, but the last two games, all of that just went out the door for the simple reason that we have only a couple guys on the floor who want to play,” Piatkowski said.
“We have some guys who go out there and [don’t] play. They let their man do whatever they want to and the other team starts playing with aggressiveness, getting up and down the floor. That just kills us.”
Leading the Rockets’ dunk parade was center Kelvin Cato, who had 21 points on nine-of-12 shooting to go with a team-high 11 rebounds and four blocked shots. Second-year guard Cuttino Mobley had 16 points and 11 assists, the first double-double of his career.
The Rockets finished with 36 assists, surpassing their previous season high of 32.