The Spacecityscoop.com staff recently tackled some interesting topics regarding the Rockets, who, with five games left in the regular season, are 9th in the West.
Staff writers Hiren Joshi, Kyle Adams, Michael Gutierrez and Ramzy Kawaja, along with editor Dennis Silva II, offered their opinions on what has been a heartbreaking late-season collapse so far for Houston, which is on a four-game losing streak.
1. What are we to make of the Rockets’ four straight losses at this time of the year? Big deal or no?
HIREN JOSHI: Big, big deal! The Rockets prior to this debacle went 4-0 on what was considered a crucial road trip. They had that “we have nothing to lose” factor, and those can be some of the most dangerous opponents in the playoffs for top tier teams. For the Rockets to suddenly lose four straight games at a time like this is shocking to me. It’s hard to explain how chemistry at such a high level can suddenly disappear and make the team look like they hadn’t played together in weeks. During the 4-0 stretch, you got the sense that this team may have something special going for themselves. No, they won’t win a championship, but can they cause an upset? At the time it sure seemed like it was plausible. Within a few days, it now looks like even if the Rockets get into the playoffs, a sweep may be in the midst.
KYLE ADAMS: I think it’s a big deal. I think anytime a team loses four in a row, it’s huge. They’re digging a big hole and burying themselves in it, especially this late in the season. They can’t afford to drop anymore games, or they will be watching the playoffs from the couch.
MICHAEL GUTIERREZ: It’s a big deal. Falling to ninth (in the West), with only five games left, is very dangerous territory. Still have to play in Miami and Dallas, so you can basically chalk up two more losses. The Rockets did exactly what they couldn’t afford to do, which is take their playoff fate out of their own hands, with reliance, now, on other teams faltering.
RAMZY KAWAJA: It’s a huge deal actually. The Rockets lost any margin for error that they gained from sweeping the four-game road trip. Winning three out of the next five might not get them in the playoffs.
DENNIS SILVA II: Very big deal. Not only because of the timing, but because they don’t look like the same team from a couple weeks ago that plummeted through the Bulls and the Lakers. It’s a relatively young team, so it’s not too surprising to see them whimper in the midst of pressure, but it is shocking to see their confidence and swagger all but gone.
2. What has been the biggest reason behind the Rockets’ recent poor play?
HIREN: Coaching, fatigue, and confidence. Over the last four games, Kevin McHale’s rotations have confused me. He has thrown the Luis Scola/Patrick Patterson combo out at the end of crucial games, and it has been catastrophically disappointing. When the Rockets collapse the way they are, McHale’s “quirky” rotations start to look like pure luck. The dreaded third quarter has haunted this team lately. They have been outscored in the third, 122-77, in the last four games combined. That leads me to confidence…. where is it? It looks like Patrick Patterson has lost a lot of it. Players have cooled off, and the way the Rockets are built, various guys must step up on various nights for this team to be successful.
KYLE: I think it’s multiple things. Poor coaching by McHale; sometimes the five guys he puts on the floor leaves you scratching your head. Kyle Lowry not playing consistent after coming back, but still getting consistent minutes. A lack of urgency on the defensive end. Marcus Camby being out. Getting beat up in the post.
MICHAEL: They just, simply, weren’t hungry enough. It’s no coincidence the opponents were all fighting for a bottom playoff seed as well. Every team is equally tired, and the Suns, Jazz and Nuggets all showed the urgency. The Rockets didn’t. They had to know they were getting the opposition’s best effort, yet, as a team, they couldn’t rise to the challenge.
RAMZY: Not being able to adjust after halftime. Getting away from what makes them successful, like ball movement and pushing it up the floor. The Rockets are a jump-shooting team. Missing long jumpers ignites opposing fast breaks. If they miss, they lose.
DENNIS: The Rockets have simply lost their shooting touch. Everyone goes through a slump, but it’s coming at the worst time for Houston. Not only that, they compound their poor percentages by continuing to jack up 3s and not attacking the rim. For the most part this season, they’ve shot straight. But when they’re not, the fact that they can’t defend and don’t get to the free-throw line become so painfully obvious.
3. What are your thoughts of Kevin McHale’s coaching during this recent skid?
HIREN: I was never a huge fan of the McHale hiring. He’s a player’s coach and an all-around nice guy, but is he head coach worthy? All year, McHale has shaken up his rotation, and early on it cost the Rockets some wins, but as the season progressed, it got better. McHale was forced to start Goran Dragic and Courtney Lee, and has done the right thing playing Chandler Parsons as a starter. Now it seems like luck has ran out, and players are gassed. The end of games are now seeing Patterson and Scola, with no Samuel Dalembert or Camby in sight. What is the logic behind this? Scola won’t come up with big rebounds, and Patterson clearly needs tutelage before earning crunchtime minutes. McHale does deserve credit for getting this bunch prepared and competitive with not much training camp time, but during this recent skid his adjustments have been poor. Ultimately, the head coach takes the brunt of the responsibility, and McHale’s Coach of the Year mentions have faded really fast.
KYLE: I think it’s been the worst it’s been all season. He falls in love with certain players (Chase Budinger, Scola, Lowry, Patterson) at times when they are off. He keeps them in when the guy behind them or in front of them is on. Doesn’t make any sense. He continues to use the small lineup with Patterson and Scola and they get killed on the boards.
MICHAEL: To be honest, it’s hard for me to knock the guys’ methods at this point, considering the Rockets have done as well as they have with the obstacle of McHale being a new coach in a lockout season; overall, I give him a lot of credit. I’ve never agreed with all his in-game decisions, but even in the losses, his approach has been consistent.
RAMZY: I’m losing confidence in Kevin McHale as a head coach. Though he has an ability to motivate and teach technique, he has shown that he isn’t capable of recognizing matchup advantages and disadvantages. Also, his rotations don’t make sense.
DENNIS: I don’t think he’s too competent from an X’s and O’s standpoint, but he’s a fine motivator. You can tell guys love playing for him, and that means something. But, overall, I’d give him a C. He has a lot to learn about handling rotations and drawing up plays.
4. With the playoffs a slim shot, though still possible, should the Rockets tank and now aim for their best bet in this year’s draft?
HIREN: Should the Rockets let go? YES. Will they? NO. Owner Leslie Alexander has made it no secret that tanking is not an option. While it’s an admirable decision, I can only assume GM Daryl Morey is at a crossroads with it. It’s like that unusual proverb, “Have one’s cake and eat it too.” The Rockets have done everything they can to stay competitive, while trying to fix the overall problem of not having a superstar. It’s hard to say this is a realistic approach, and while the Rockets do tend to beat teams they have no business beating, is it worth those wins for an eighth seed, or a lousy draft position? It’s the mediocrity factor, of not being terrible and not being amazing. At some point, you have to pick a side, and if it means suffering for the future, then you live with it.
KYLE: I thought before the deadline that if they couldn’t get the big man they desperately wanted, they should just tank. This draft is going to be one of the deepest in years. But they’re all in, even though it’s for the wrong reasons of continuing to fight every year for the eighth spot. I say they should just go for it now that they’re this deep into the season.
MICHAEL: In the Rockets’ case, any lottery pick is worth more than a brief playoff appearance; however, to aim for and miss the playoffs again would still be a massive letdown in its own right. With no star to build around, the Rockets should chase the highest pick in the draft possible until they do. The refusal by Rockets management to “bottom out” just seems to be delaying the inevitable.
RAMZY: They shouldn’t tank, but they shouldn’t feel pressured to make the playoffs either. Fans should curb their expectations and accept a first round pick as a nice consolation prize for not making the playoffs.
DENNIS: It’d make no sense to start tanking now when it won’t matter much. The Rockets should have been doing that this year, with the opportunity for multiple picks in the first round of a loaded draft. For a team that likely won’t be in the playoffs, we still don’t know what they have in Marcus Morris, and when you don’t know what your prized rookie can bring, that’s discouraging. There was a wasted opportunity to bring him along sooner than later, because I feel his scoring, size and versatility could have really helped this team.
5. Yes or no: Do the Rockets make the playoffs?
HIREN: Yes. The final five opponents for the Rockets are the Mavericks, Hornets (twice,) Warriors and Heat. Beating the Mavs will be no easy mission, and while the Hornets are playing much better with Eric Gordon in the lineup, I do think the Rockets can win both meetings. The Warriors game is another realistic win, and depending on the Heat’s decision on who plays and who doesn’t, the Rockets may luck out. It may be a very short-lived playoff appearance, but it’s what the Rockets set as the overall goal, and I wouldn’t mind seeing them accomplish it.
KYLE: I think they need to win out. The Suns have a tough remaining schedule, but the Jazz’s schedule is easier than the Rockets’. They can’t afford to lose any more games after this four-game slide. They have to turn this into a five-game win streak. Wins against the Mavericks and Heat would be huge.
MICHAEL: Have to say no. Utah owning the tiebreaker over Houston is the ultimate key. The Suns’ tough schedule should be too much for them to overcome; meanwhile, the Jazz could easily go 3-1, which should cement them in the playoff race. Best likely scenario for the Rockets would be a 3-2 finish. Even then, it just wouldn’t be enough for Houston to reach their playoff goals.
RAMZY: No. Three of the next five on the road, two of them in Dallas and Miami.
DENNIS: No. The Rockets would have to win out, or at the very worse go 4-1. I think they’ll go somewhere around 3-2. For example, I could see them beating Dallas and Miami, but losing to the Warriors and Hornets. That’s just the kind of season it’s been.