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What went wrong? Examining the Rockets’ fatal six-game skid

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Patrick Patterson and the Houston Rockets failed to secure their playoff berth,

BY: MICHAEL GUTIERREZ

SPACECITYSCOOP.COM

TWITTER: @MG_713 

In an unbelievable turn of events, immediately after a four-game road winning streak, the Houston Rockets lost six straight games, all but crushing their playoff hopes.

Let’s take a closer look at each game to find the cause of the Rockets’ (32-31) abrupt fall from 6th in the West to 10th over a matter of a little more than a week.

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Vs. Utah (103-91): This game was actually pretty interesting. Although Utah would win by a twelve-point margin, there was never any breakout quarter for either team. Instead, the Jazz won each of the first three quarters, but never by more than six points. The Rockets actually won the fourth quarter by a point (which was too little, too late). Also, surprisingly, the Rockets totaled more rebounds (with 46), while pulling in seven more offensive boards than the Jazz (42 total). Add that to the fact the Rockets had three fewer turnovers (8) and only two fewer assists (17), the loss ultimately boils down to a mixture of an inability to keep their opponent under 100 points (will get back to this), and lack of shooting efficiency.

Houston put up nine more field goal attempts than Utah; however, the Jazz were able to convert on 40 to the Rockets’ 31. Even more ugly, Houston went 4-for-20 beyond the arc, with an atrocious .200 3-point percentage on the night. On the other side, the Jazz connected on 6-for-14 from distance, posting a respectable .429 average. The key evidence being shown by the Effective Field Goal Percentage (this statistic adjusts for the fact that a 3-point field goal is worth one more point than a 2-point field goal), where the Jazz finished .172 higher than the Rockets. Even more, Utah’s offensive rating was 13.4 points higher, giving one answer to why this game swayed in Utah’s direction.

The other answer came on the defensive end, where Houston is 9-23 when its opponents score over 100 points.

Vs. Phoenix (112-105): This matchup mimicked the Utah game in several ways, but had a new twist to it. The Rockets won the first and fourth quarters by 12 points combined, but a new third quarter swoon had presented itself. Going into the half, Houston held a four-point lead before the Suns came to life, outscoring the cold Rockets by 16 points in the third. In this case, Houston was outrebounded on the defensive end (by nine), but, again, won on the offensive side (by four).

However, it would be on the offensive side of the court where the Rockets would struggle yet again. Starters Courtney Lee and Chandler Parsons finished the game with horrendous offensive ratings; Parsons would have a team low (at 62) and Lee was hardly better (69).

The Suns just flat-out shot better than the Rockets in every way. They recorded a higher True Shooting Percentage (with a .079 differential) and Effective Field Goal Percentage (.093). From beyond the arc, it would be more of the same, as Houston went 4-for-19 with a .211 percentage. Shooting efficiency, again, being Houston’s Achilles’ heel, with the Suns going 8-for-18 from three-point land (.444).

Although a different game, it was the same result as the Rockets yielded another 100-point game.

Vs. Denver (101-98): Right off the bat, Houston came out looking for redemption, heading into the half with a six-point lead. Then, the dreaded third quarter did its job in being a sand trap for the Rockets. In almost identical fashion to the Phoenix game, the Nuggets pulled away in the third, going on a 37-point uproar, only to be matched by a low 19 points on the Rockets’ behalf. Again, the Rockets put up more shots (going 32 of 87), while connecting less than the Nuggets (41 of 83).

They would also have the same outcome of racking up more offensive boards (by three), but slightly losing the total rebound battle (by four).

Houston, being in a slump, continued to post lower shooting numbers than its opponent. While connecting from behind the arc was in the Rockets’ favor (by .135), overall, they still scored lower in both True Shooting Percentage (.098) and Effective Field Goal Percentage (.093). The poor shooting and 10 fewer assists were due to the Rockets’ inability to put the ball in the basket (most often a result of lack of ball movement), as Denver poured in another 100-point game.

Vs. Denver (105-102): If you haven’t figured the common denominator yet, this game might help you out a little bit. After Houston stole the first quarter by 11 points, Denver took the next three quarters to close the game. Care to take a guess which quarter was lost by the highest margin? Yes, it was the third.

Getting back to similarities, rebounding was roughly in the same territory as the other losses, but this time the Rockets (with 48 total) held the slight edge over the Nuggets (41). Despite the end result being a loss, somehow, the Rockets won the turnover battle as well. With only one fewer assist and fourteen fewer shot attempts, the Rockets were able to hang in this game, as opposed to the previous game against Denver. However, the lack of ability to connect from the 3-point line (.276 percentage) was enough cause for a fourth straight loss.

Vs. Dallas (117-110): Finally, we have a turn of events. Both quarters in the first half finished even, and it was the Rockets who grasped the lead (by six points) going into the fourth. Unfortunately, the Mavs, as they always do, went on to secure a victory over the Rockets, winning the final quarter by 13 points.

As stated before, this loss had some turns compared to the previous. When looking for the difference maker, you won’t find it in shooting efficiency. Rather, you’ll need to take a peak at the lack of a bench and inability to get to the free-throw line.

The Rockets’ bench was beyond awful, with every player having a negative plus/minus.  The secondary squad of Chase Budinger (-14), Patrick Patterson (-11), Kyle Lowry (-17), and Samuel Dalembert (-4) was vastly outplayed by a Dallas’ bench including Jason Terry (+14), Vince Carter (+20), Brandan Wright (+7), Ian Mahinmi (+9) and Rodrigue Beaubois (+5).

Houston, also, was not able to keep Dallas from the foul line, totaling 11 fewer free-throw attempts. No doubt, losing 12 points at the stripe was just too much for the Rockets to overcome, losing by seven.

Vs. New Orleans (105-99): The nail in the coffin. With the New Orleans Hornets being considered a bottom-feeder, this seemed like an automatic win for even a struggling Houston team.

To begin, the Rockets played pretty well going into the second half, only giving up 42 points, but more importantly, scoring the basketball to keep pace (leading by eight).  Then, it was immediately back to old habits.

In the garbage can, where the Rockets’ recent third quarters belong; they could only provide 13 total points, meanwhile giving up 26, to head into the fourth.

Unlike the other games, rebounding was not in Houston’s favor, with New Orleans racking up 17 more total rebounds (at 57). Also unique to the current losing streak, the Rockets held the Hornets to only .200 percentage from the 3. Even so, when it was all said and done, the Rockets, again, finished with a lesser offensive rating, and six fewer points.

With almost every stat being neck and neck, it’s the rebounding that sets itself apart in this game. Although the Rockets improved in this loss (as compared to others), giving up 13 more defensive rebounds is hardly a way to close out such a close game.

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The way the recent six-game skid has come to fruition for the Rockets, it’s nearly impossible to pinpoint one aspect that’s entirely to blame.

The Rockets have fallen from 17th in the defensive rankings after the four-game road win streak, to 20th, giving up an average of 107 points on 49 percent shooting over the stretch of their current six-game losing streak.

With that being said, the Rockets just haven’t found a way to retaliate on the offensive end, when the opposing teams breach the century mark.

This late in the season, that’s usually where having a superstar comes in handy.

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