- The Washington Times - Monday, November 21, 2005

Maybe Houston Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy should be banned from the league. And not because he said a referee warned him officials were instructed to watch Rockets center Yao Ming more closely for moving screens during last season’s playoffs. For that comment, NBA commissioner David Stern fined him $100,000.

In Houston, we have a new problem. Specifically, how to put the ball in the basket.

Van Gundy’s Rockets (3-7) are last in the league in scoring, struggling to produce 83.9 points a game. Their latest effort was a 74-point showing Sunday night in an 11-point loss to the Indiana Pacers.

The Rockets haven’t scored 100 points all season. Three times they have failed to hit 80. With these numbers, they would be lucky to beat Duke.

This is Van Gundy Ball. He loves to use the shot clock and preach defense. The only thing he enjoys more is hanging onto Alonzo Mourning’s ankle for dear life.

Van Gundy sees 24 seconds as an eternity and when he is coaching, it sure seems that way. Every Rockets ticket should come with a warning: May cause drowsiness.

The game is supposed to be fun. It meant to be played. But here is Van Gundy trying to pitch a shutout.

Van Gundy likes to control the game, and there is nothing sadder than a 5-foot-9, balding, 43-year-old man with control issues — unless that man is hanging onto another man’s ankle.

During his five full seasons coaching the Knicks, Van Gundy’s teams finished 19th, 25th, 27th, 27th, and 28th in scoring. In 1999, he led the eighth-seeded Knicks (27-23, 86.4 points a game) all the way to the NBA Finals using this strategy.

Defense wins championships, he believes.

But Van Gundy doesn’t just clamp down on the opposition. He defends against his own players, too.

Two seasons ago, Steve Francis averaged a career-low 16.6 points under Van Gundy. Allan Houston never averaged 20 points — until Van Gundy left New York. Latrell Sprewell averaged 20 points in Golden State. Then he met Van Gundy in New York and averaged 17.9 over five seasons.

Last season Van Gundy experienced a scoring breakthrough of sorts, when the Rockets averaged 95.1 points (20th in the league) on their way to 51 wins. Of course, he did this with former scoring champion Tracy McGrady and 7-foot-5 Yao Ming (.552 field goal percentage).

This season’s futility isn’t only about McGrady’s back spasms. He has played in six games and the Rockets have averaged 92.8 points in those, which would make them 23rd in the league.

This season’s offensive offense is Van Gundy Ball. It’s about playing scared.

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