Who are these guys? What have they done with my Rockets? Ever since fans had been teased by that 19 game stretch in which the home team came out victorious in 13 of them, the Rockets have been the capitol of Iceland. Everything that they were doing right has been tossed out the window. Discarding the offensive fundamentals that had Houston at the top of the heap in basket-making. What happened? It’s like someone turned off the light-switch in their brains. We’ve seen the Rockets perform this act before. One month, they’re the Houston Globetrotters. The ball would be moving at a rapid pace. Oohing and awing fans to the point where we begin to envision something that was once thought to be out of the realm of possibilities in regards to playoff seeding. Then the weirdest thing would happen. Reality. Players starting thinking without doing. Not only do the Rockets not look as good as the way they played in December, but they don’t look like they can beat anybody. Since January 2, they’ve lost 8 of 9.
McHale: “We’re holding the ball now. Not pushing the pace. Spacing’s poor. Gotta reinforce who we are.” “Right now, we’re low on confidence.”
The most astute of basketball minds have tried to make some sense of it all. Too many back to backs. No practice. Fatigue setting in. Excuses. Everything that the Rockets are doing wrong is correctable but is not being corrected. Holding on to the ball, not getting back in transition, not putting a body on anybody, cheating halfway on double-teams, lazy passes in the lane are all symptoms of a team that has lost focus. The Rockets have deviated from their initial strategy, which was to play fast and don’t let up. Kevin McHale knew this team would go nowhere in half court sets. This lightning-paced play is supposed to keep these kids from letting their heads get in the way of the basket. But disguising their inexperience was only going to go so far before the league’s vets started to recognize who they were actually playing against.
Of course, the Rockets are only making it easier on their opponents by coughing it up like a lung cancer patient. At 16.5 per game, Houston is the kindest at giving the ball back to the enemy. The forced pace has a lot to do with that but a huge majority of their turnovers stem from the sudden lack of ball-movement. The clock starts to go faster, defenses tighten and players are putting themselves in the most awkward of positions. It is frustrating but it’s also correctable.
Time will tell us who the real Rockets are. Are they the same team that generously gifted us a thrashing of the Bulls on Christmas Day or the current ones who are getting handled every night since the new year began.