The Houston Rockets haven’t opened the season the way many were hoping, but the season is far from over. Here are three takeaways from Wednesday’s loss to the Jazz that will help the squad get over the hump.
Last night’s 100-89 loss to the Utah Jazz was disheartening, but not completely unexpected. Chris Paul was out due to suspension, James Harden left the game in the fourth quarter with hamstring tightness, and there were a few calls that didn’t go the Rockets’ way.
Still, there were plenty of things within the Rockets’ control that need improvement in order to be a top team in the loaded Western Conference.
The game was entertaining in some ways with eight lead changes, eight ties and highlight plays coming from both teams.
But it was also painful to watch, as both teams combined for 36 turnovers and the Rockets scored a dismal 89 points as a result of a stagnant offense.
Fortunately, Houston has 78 more games to get things right, so there is no need to overreact. Here are three takeaways from the loss to implement right away.
Next: No. 3
3. The Rockets need to get to the free throw line
The Rockets have shot selection broken down to a science: shoot a ton of layups and threes, stay away from the mid-range, and get to the free throw line as often as possible. While the Rockets are second in the league in 3-point attempts and fall in the middle of the pack in points in the paint, they are not getting to the line nearly enough.
Last night against the Jazz, Houston shot just 14 free throws, making only eight of them. For the season, they are 25th in the league in free throw attempts at 20.8 per game and are shooting just 68.7 percent.
Compare those numbers to last season when the Rockets were third in the league with 25.1 attempts per game and were shooting them at a 78.1 percent clip, and the problem is apparent. That’s more than five points, enough to change the outcome in a lot of games.
When James Harden has gone to the line in past years, you could usually chalk it up for two points.
This year has been different, however, as Harden is shooting just 73.5 percent, down from his 85.8 percent mark last season. Harden has never shot below 80% from the line in his entire career, so we should expect to see his efficiency rise.
This isn’t just a one-player problem though. Rockets not named James Harden went a dismal 2-for-5 from the free throw line in the loss to Utah.
In order for Houston to keep up with the offensive production the rest of the league is putting out, drawing fouls will be crucial to the effort.
Next: No. 2
2. Defensive effort must continue
Yes, sophomore phenom Donovan Mitchell dropped 38 points on 14-of-25 shooting against a virtually non-existent defense. But all things considered, the Rockets held Utah to just 100 points for the game, which is quite the accomplishment in 2018’s NBA. It was also against the same offense that put up 81 points in the first half against the Warriors just a few nights ago.
This was mainly due to the increased defensive effort forcing 19 Jazz turnovers. The constant switching caused the Jazz a few problems, and for the most part, Rudy Gobert was a non-factor in the post, even against players a foot shorter than him.
P.J. Tucker ended the night with a league-high seven steals, Michael Carter-Williams was active, and Carmelo Anthony looked engaged on and off the ball. Clint Capela blocked a couple shots and altered a few more, and even Harden forced some tough shots.
The defensive result was promising after allowing 131, 115, and 115 points, respectively, in the first three games. With Chris Paul returning on Friday in a matchup against his old team, things might get even better.
Next: No. 1
1. Eric Gordon needs to step up
Playing without Chris Paul is rough. But nearly every team across the league will play without one or more of their best players at times, so other guys are required to step up. In the Rockets’ case, the load falls on reigning Sixth Man of the Year Eric Gordon, and so far he has fallen short.
Gordon’s shot chart last night against Utah was about as ugly as it gets, shooting 5-for-21 from the field and 1-for-12 from distance.
The 29-year old marksman is a 37.5 percent career three-point shooter, but he is below 25 percent through four games this season. Much like Harden’s free throw percentage, this is based on a small sample size and will surely go up. But if the Rockets want to win games now, Gordon has to be solid.
One bright spot for Gordon was going 5-of-8 from three against the Clippers on Sunday, so hopefully, he’ll do more of the same against the Clips tomorrow, this time at home.
All stats via NBA.com