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Bench Play Leads Rockets Past Knicks, Forces McHale To Expand Rotation

By TERRANCE HARRIS, SportsRadio 610
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New York Knicks v Houston Rockets
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HOUSTON (CBS Houston) — Rockets coach Kevin McHale feels most comfortable with his rotation going about eight or nine players deep.

When you start approaching a 10-man rotation that is pushing.

Well it looks as though his new team may stretch his comfort level and it has taken the foot injury to leading scorer Kevin Martin to bring this to a head. Martin missed his second straight game Saturday night when the Rockets took on New York and for the second straight night it was the bench that made the difference in a victory.

On Friday night, it was Chase Budinger coming in and providing the spark but during Saturday night’s impressive 97-84 win at Toyota Center the Rockets got a little bit from several spots on the bench. Budinger came off the bench for the second night in a row to lead the team in scoring with 19 minutes, while backup point guard Goran Dragic added 16 points and five assists and center Jordan Hill contributed 14 points and 11 rebounds while working against Amar’e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler most of the night.

Courtney Lee who would have normally been the first man off the bench but started in place of Martin had the high among the starters 14 points. When you throw in big man Patrick Patterson it’s easy to see McHale could have a numbers problem once Martin returns from his inflamed right heel.

It just seems unreasonable to dial back the bench after the progress it is undoubtedly showing.

“Guys are playing well, Kevin is going to be back here soon so yeah we are probably going to have to take a look here maybe going a little deeper in the bench,” said McHale, whose 12-8 team won its ninth game in the last 10 and moved into a three-way tie for first place in the Southwest Division. “Those guys have earned it, especially Chase has really stepped up and played very very well. I’m hoping that we can get that nice mix of guys and we don’t have the really heavy heavy numbers of minute, the 40-plus minutes. I think we can keep a lot of those numbers down a little bit, give everybody maybe shorter stints.

“So yeah, I think the bench has done a great job.”

In the last two games they’ve come in and provided a lift in pretty much all phases of the game, scoring, rebounding and most importantly defending.

The starters played well Saturday but it was the reserves who all but put the game away with Budinger coming in and knocking down big shots during his 23:51 minutes, and the same went for Dragic who converted 6 of 8 from the field to offset a second-straight off shooting night for starting point guard Kyle Lowry.

It was the play of the reserves that turned a relatively close game into a 20-point lead for the Rockets in the second half. The Rockets bench outscored the Knicks 61-35.

“Their bench killed us,” said Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni. “We had a nice thing going in the first half and then their bench came in and really caught fire.”

What’s unbelievable is that just two games ago against Milwaukee on Wednesday night, neither Budinger nor Hill got off the bench. Budinger had gone three straight games without logging a minute prior to Friday night.

McHale said Friday there really wasn’t any specific reason he hadn’t played Budinger other than starting rookie forward Chandler Parsons had been playing so well. You combine that with the fact McHale is kind of old school and believes his starters should play the bulk of the minutes and the remainder of the minutes should be divided among just a few for rhythm sake.

But with a team like he has and playing a condensed schedule due to the lockout, McHale may find that there are actually strength in numbers.

Ideally, McHale would like to play most of his starters no more than 35 or 36 minutes. None of the starters hit 30 minutes Saturday which will prove pivotal Monday when they taking on Minnesota in their third game in four nights.

“It’s awesome, you can get me rest and going well, get Kevin rest, give Sam (Dalembert) rest …,” said Lowry, who was just 1 for 6 from the field and scored three points against New York. “Have everybody go out there and play these type of minutes and play with the depth we’ve been doing it’s awesome.”

“The bench let them rock, if they are doing their job then let them play. No one is mad about what they are doing.”

They are playing inspired and like a unit that has something to prove. Budinger is certainly playing with a chip on his shoulder after being on the way to being forgotten man on the bench. Hill began the season as a starter in the post but lost his spot to the more physically gifted Dalembert.

Dragic also is proving to be a nice player and a great complement to Lowry in the backcourt while Lee continues to be streaky spark off the bench.

“We just got to go out there and help the starters out,” Hill said. “The starters can’t play the whole game by themselves so it’s time for us to go out there and do what we have to do in order to get them a little breather and keep the intensity up and go out there ball out.”

Contact Terrance Harris at terrancefharris@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @Terranceharris

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