WHO: Nuggets 117, Rockets 105.
WHAT: The Rockets lost their second in a row on Friday, dropping to 7th in the West with a 21-16 overall record and 29 games left in the season. Since the All-Star break, they’ve dropped two of three, and they easily could be 0-3. Houston dropped a game against a Denver team -playing without starters and core figures Nene and Danilo Gallinari, and a key reserve in Rudy Fernandez, mind you – that is in the mix for one of those playoff spots in the bottom half of the West. It was just the fifth home loss in 20 games for Houston, and it did not come without consequence. Luis Scola was bloodied by an inadvertent Arron Afflalo elbow in the first quarter, and Patrick Patterson left the game in the fourth quarter after suffering a nasty spill. He did return with 2:53 remaining. He tweeted after the game that his back was “sore,” but that he was otherwise fine. Either way, another ugly outing for the Rockets.
WHAT HAPPENED?: Here’s what’s becoming blatantly apparent during this rut Houston finds itself in: the Rockets cannot rebound. And they’re getting outworked in the paint. Denver outrebounded Houston 49-35 and outscored it in the paint, 52-36. They had 19 (!!!!) offensive rebounds for 33 second-chance points. Inexcusable, especially considering, as previously noted, Nene did not participate. The Rockets have to find some solution on the boards. There’s the thinking that Jordan Hill’s eventual return will help, but he only averaged 4.9 rebounds, and his defensive and offensive lapses don’t warrant enough trust to give him significant stretches of playing time. The onus is on Luis Scola and Samuel Dalembert to man up. Scola had just four rebounds in 31 minutes. Dalembert had five in 25 minutes. If it wasn’t for Patrick Patterson and Kyle Lowry (17 rebounds between them), things might have gotten even uglier, if that’s possible. Coach Kevin McHale was livid after the game about how his team was punked inside, and rightfully so.
MARTIN SHOWS UP: Nice of Kevin Martin to show up. He had 35 points on 10 of 15 shooting, including 6 of 9 from deep, and even reintroduced himself to the free throw line, going 9 for 10. Too bad it did not result in a win. It’s gotten this bad for Martin, where his great performances warrant a separate note in game recaps. Games like tonight should be closer to the norm, not such an anomaly like it has been this season. But he’s spending way too much time shooting 3s (9 of his 15 field goal attempts were from deep).
ROCKETS’ DIAPER DANDIES UPDATE: Neither Greg Smith or Marcus Morris played, though, to me, with the Rockets’ pathetic rebounding, you’d figure the 6-foot-10, beefy Smith could warrant some time. He’s a big body who eats up space and can block out and put a body on people. Doesn’t exactly make sense for Kevin McHale to be having him on the pine.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?: It means that with 12 days left until the trading deadline, we know exactly what the Rockets have to address. We know Sam Dalembert and Luis Scola are not cutting it defensively, and even offensively to an extent, as a starting frontcourt. The Rockets need more size. They need more insurance. They need somebody to keep teams from getting second and third offensive possessions. It’s hard to see things getting better with the roster as is. Scola is not a good rebounder for a power forward. Dalembert has been too inconsistent and really provides you with little else than a couple of blocks and buckets a game. Patterson can rebound, but he’s the only frontcourt player who makes it a point to attack the glass. If I’m GM Daryl Morey, I do what it takes to make sure this need is addressed. There is no sense in going into the playoffs, getting that 14th or 15th middle-of-the-pack pick and to flame out in the first round. Either truly make a run at something, or play the young guys, deal away Scola, Martin and maybe Dalembert, and begin the rebuilding process and figuring out who exactly you’re going to gun for in free agency this summer. The clock is ticking, and Houston has given no assurance it’s headed faithfully in the right direction.