WHO: Raptors 116, Rockets 98.
WHAT: In a matter of six games, the Rockets have fallen from 4th in the West to 9th, completely out of the playoff picture. Unbelievable. Forty games into this 66-game sprint, Houston is 21-19, having lost five of its last six games since the All-Star break. There has been no continuity. No effort. No passion. The wheels have completely fallen off for the Rockets. They continue to struggle on the road, having lost five straight away from Toyota Center for a 6-13 record. And it doesn’t get easier. Five of their next six are on the road. I hate to be drastic, but at this moment, there is no light at the end of the tunnel.
WHAT HAPPENED?: Defense. The Rockets don’t play it anymore. Since the All-Star break, the Rockets – who were a middle-of-the-pack defensive club before the break, still an upgrade from years past – are surrendering 104 points per game. They no longer rebound. They’re apathetic, and they seem willing to surrender open looks. Wednesday’s bout in Toronto was just another example of that. The Raptors shot a sizzling 59.2 percent from the field. That’s right, the Toronto Raptors, they of the 13-26 overall record, hit almost six of every 10 shots they took. Let that sink in. They outrebounded the Rockets 36-34, and, despite Houston having 20 more free throw attempts and 17 more makes, Toronto STILL rolled to a demonstrative win. The Raptors assisted on 31 of their 45 field goals. Meanwhile, the Rockets shot just 41 percent from the field. There’s your story folks. In what has become a common synopsis of the last few games, Houston is giving up a lot of points and isn’t scoring enough. Pretty simple.
BALANCED STRUGGLES: Let’s take a closer look at the Rockets’ struggles, starting defensively. Since the All-Star break, Houston is allowing opponents to shoot 47.8 percent from the field. Not good, especially considering they were holding opponents to a respectable shooting percentage earlier this season. However, also not good is the fact that those opponents are assisting on 60.8 percent of their field goals. Throw in Houston’s rebounding troubles – the Rockets have been outrebounded in 11 of their last 12 games – and there is no semblance of strong defense in any facet, a curious breakdown which can only be attributed to a lack of effort. After all, the bottom line is this is a roster full of players who think score first, score second and maybe play defense last. With that in mind, I now point out that Houston’s offense – once amongst the league’s best – has also struggled mightily since the break. Houston is shooting just 41.3 percent from the field for 94.8 points per contest in the last six games. They rank in the league’s bottom in terms of getting to the free-throw line (about 19 attempts per game) and shoot 35 percent from 3, which is decent but not enough if you’re hitting shots or getting points at the line.
WASH, RINSE, REPEAT FOR MARTIN: For the second straight game, Kevin Martin was pulled in the mid-to-late third quarter and never returned. He missed six of his seven shots and scored just seven points in 19 minutes Wednesday. I’ve already stated my thoughts on Martin and what I think. There is no justification for his starting spot, however. He has done nothing to earn it.
ROCKETS’ DIAPER DANDIES UPDATE: Marcus Morris finally saw some time Wednesday, albeit just a bit in garbage time. He played 3 minutes, 6 seconds and scored one point with one rebound. He missed his lone field goal attempt and went 1-for-2 from the charity stripe. Not much to write home about, but I’d really like to get a nice look at him, especially with Martin’s pathetic play and Courtney Lee’s spotty shooting of late. Greg Smith did not play. He was inactive.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?: Nothing hasn’t been said that’s already been beaten to death in this space before. The Rockets are falling quickly, and now they’re on the outside looking in on the playoff picture as surging Minnesota has taken over the eighth place spot. By the way, it’s important to note the Wolves hold the series tiebreaker against the Rockets this season. The bottom line is Houston needs a vast makeover. Nothing against Chandler Parsons, but when the offensively-challenged second round draft pick is your leading scorer (as was the case Wednesday), something is terribly wrong. Trade Martin. Trade Luis Scola. Maybe trade Kyle Lowry, who I’ve always attested is nothing more than a really good reserve on a quality team. Trade Goran Dragic. Do whatever it takes to rid yourself of Terrence Williams, who has been given a lot of chances to prove himself lately, which he’s blown. Nothing is going good for the Rockets, and it doesn’t look to get better anytime soon. There is a lot of dead weight on this roster, and the longer you keep it around, the more things will go awry sooner than later.