WHO: Jazz 104, Rockets 83.
WHAT: In the topsy turvy Western Conference, the Rockets dropped to 6th in the West one day after sitting tied with Dallas for 4th. Overall, Houston is 21-15, but its loss Wednesday snapped a four-game winning streak and did nothing but spotlight the Rockets’ troubles on the road, where they’re 6-11. Houston is also going to have to start making some progress in its own conference. The Rockets are just 13-13 against the West.
WHAT HAPPENED?: Nothing good. The Rockets’ backcourt was absolutely blitzed defensively, surrendering 46 points on 16-of-27 shooting to Utah’s starting tandem of Devin Harris and C.J. Miles. Miles, starting in place of Raja Bell, was especially en fuego, with a career-high 27 points on 10 of 16 shooting. When you consider Utah was without two starters – Bell and main cog Paul Millsap – it makes the loss even more inexcusable. But for the second straight night, Houston couldn’t shoot straight (39 percent overall, including 23 percent from 3), and for the eighth straight game, it was outrebounded badly, this time by a gross margin of 50-34. The split of the back-to-back was fitting after the Rockets escaped the Raptors Tuesday night despite being dominated in every facet statistically. Wednesday, that caught up to them against a more balanced team. We’re beginning to see exactly how vital Kyle Lowry is (are you listening, Daryl Morey?). After scoring 32 points in Houston’s previous win against Utah, he was held to 13 points on 4 of 9 shooting Wednesday. The Rockets simply don’t have enough offensive firepower in the starting lineup for Lowry to have an off game against quality competition. Defense is also becoming a concern. Not only are the Rockets not rebounding, but they’re allowing teams to shoot healthy percentages, such as Utah’s 48.3 marksmanship from the field Wednesday. The trends are not going in a favorable direction for the guys in red and silver.
SCOLAAAAAAAAAAA: One encouraging sign? Luis Scola, who compiled his third consecutive double-double Wednesday, this time with 18 points and 10 rebounds, though I think the Jazz are more than happy that he needed 18 shots for those 18 points. And he shot two free throws. And missed both. AND he made a dunk, which had people wondering when was the last time the Rockets’ starting power forward dunked. OK, so it was a tempered encouragement.
SAME STORY, DIFFERENT CHAPTER: Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Kevin Martin struggled. Badly. Martin went 2-for-10 from the field against Utah for 6 points in 20 minutes. He missed all four 3-point attempts and shot just two free throws. He has missed 19 of his last 22 shots, and had as many turnovers (1) as assists (1) and rebounds (1). How much longer before his putrid offensive play is tolerated, especially when there are more competent pieces waiting in Courtney Lee or even (gasp) Chase Budinger? Yes, that’s how far it’s come, Kevin. We’d rather see Chase get your minutes. My, how the average have fallen.
ROCKETS’ DIAPER DANDIES UPDATE: In a game with plenty of garbage time, both the Rockets’ prized prospects actually saw floor time. Undrafted power forward Greg Smith played 4 minutes, 29 seconds, and had two points, two rebounds and a block. Even more impressive, he did not commit a foul. Good outing from the self-proclaimed “Juiceman.” Lottery pick Marcus Morris finally saw the floor since being recalled from the Vipers two weekends ago, but he only played 1 minute, 29 seconds and compiled nothing else in the stat line. Don’t think it would’ve hurt Kevin McHale to play Marcus more in light of Martin’s and Lee’s (1-for-4 shooting; 3 points and 4 rebounds in 26 minutes) struggles, but, hey, bygones.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?: It means that the Rockets have got to find some way to start winning on the road. And it would help if they found some rebounding to go along with that. Samuel Dalembert and Kevin Martin are giving the Rockets absolutely little right now, which means more time should be awarded to Lee, maybe even Morris, and certainly Smith, who could help alleviate some of those rebounding problems. If the Rockets are serious about making a deep playoff run this season, they have no time to wait for Martin to come around for a couple games before sucking for a few more. Atleast Dalembert can provide some defense, though his rebounding is lackluster. The Rockets face Denver at home on Fridayand the Clippers at home on Sunday before embarking on a lengthy road trip that has them playing seven of eight away from Houston, including at Boston, at Cleveland, at Oklahoma City and at the Clippers. We’re going to find out how serious this team is really soon.