The Rockets suffered their fourth loss in 6-games and were swept in their back to back series. Could the fact this was their third game in four nights have caught up to them?
Well yes and no. Certainly the fact Houston’s last three opponents featured games against some of the West’s absolute best had to take a toll. They recovered from their last 2 consecutive losses with wins over the 2-teams sitting directly in front of them on the West ladder. The fact they beat both Portland and Memphis is a credit to how deep this Rocket team is, especially with the recent additions and more specifically showcases how good they can be when they play lock down defense.
The winner of the San Antonio bout took until the final half minute to be solidified and could be somewhat pushed aside given the Spurs themselves were desperate for a win as they’d only won once in their last 8 games.
However, the loss to Washington last night represented an uneven effort with major defensive lapses and once again poor shooting seems to have become more of a regular occurrence that can’t simply be ignored moving forward.
Let’s look at some factors that led to the loss and pinpoint some of the standouts for the home side
Three Keys To the Loss:
ONE: The thing that stood out above all else was the lack of energy and effort on the floor by the team. It was glaringly obvious whenever Corey Brewer, Jason Terry and Joey Dorsey were in the game. It reminded me of the movie The Matrix watching the slow motion movement of one of the actors bending to avoid bullets, followed by the sped up version that’s how much disparity there was. What is disconcerting is while Dwight Howard was out injured this Rocket team was winning behind James Harden‘s MVP type effort and more specifically their defense led by Trevor Ariza which vaulted to the second best in the NBA.
What is puzzling about last night’s loss was how poorly Howard and Beverley (both considered defensive players) were on the defensive end of the court. One play that stood out was in the fourth quarter Howard got his hand on the ball and tipped it directly to Paul Pierce which resulted in a 3-point shot. For a player used to blocking shots and knowing how to tip them I found it odd he almost guided the ball directly toward Pierce. In the final 2-minutes of the game Beverley was actively trying to grab a steal and I wondered where was this intensity earlier.
While Washington opened up an 18-point lead time and again we saw multiple Wizards running down the court hitting wide open shots with often just one Rocket in your picture. All of the starters had defensive lapses and issues, however I’m cutting Harden and Ariza some slack given how much run they’ve had keeping this team winning while there were multiple players out injured. And yes Josh Smith made some questionable decisions, but we can’t blame a player who is still getting integrated into the team and wasn’t on the court for many of the big lapses that occurred.
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TWO: It’s not like we weren’t aware this team was turning over the ball, rather I think we felt it was an aberration that would disappear when the team isolated it as an issue and once healthy players returned. Some assumed the turnovers were more a factor of being tired because the players were using so much energy on both ends of the court. That argument holds no merit now since the last two games we’ve witnessed 25 and 20 turnovers. Given how poorly the Rockets played on defense I’m still wondering how they had 20 turnovers last night.
THREE: While it was amazing to see James Harden go on an individual 9-point run in the last :20 seconds of the game why was he even in that situation? The bench was clearly aware of the need to take control of the game the problem was the starters weren’t. While the team struggled from the field early, I wondered why aren’t they recognizing they are dragging in energy and attack the rim. This one falls on Howard who should have dominated in the paint and who should be fresh given he missed 11-games due to injury.
While Harden did have that 9-point :20 second explosion it was key shots at critical moments by Corey Brewer that has him surging ahead as the MVP of the night. After trailing by 18-points it was Brewer’s energy that sparked the bench to a 29-13 run beginning in the third quarter. He hit a critical 3-pointer that drew Houston within 2 and the subsequent possession Harden tied the game. Once again the starters entered and Washington surged ahead by 9-points. Harden, Ariza and Brewer all buckled down to once mount a come back which almost happened when at 2:10 Brewer created a steal that cut the lead to 2.
Play of the night:
The steal by Brewer at 2:10 of the fourth quarter was huge as it energized the team and brought them once again within two points.
I have to admit I wondered why Daryl Morey release rookie Tarik Black electing to retain Joey Dorsey instead. I had nothing against Dorsey either I was just surprised the team didn’t retain a younger player who had a huge upside. Last night completely qualified for me why Dorsey remains a Rocket and how pivotal he can be in games in terms of his defensive prowess. He finished the game with a team high +23 and we were all left to wonder if only the starters had used part of the energy of Dorsey or sensed the urgency of the moment sooner the outcome could have been completely different.
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Check back later tomorrow for our Game Day Countdown as we prepare for the Charlotte Hornets.