Poor shooting wasn’t the only thing that doomed the Houston Rockets in a blowout loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday.
It was a loss that many could see coming (including us), but no one expected the Houston Rockets to come out that flat against the Thunder. They were outhustled, outmatched and simply outplayed in front of a raucous Oklahoma City crowd. Houston’s largest lead was just three while the Thunder enjoyed a 30-point edge at one point.
It’s always easy to find excuses for a team that’s on the second night of a back-to-back, and even more so when you consider how banged up some of the Rockets are 36 games into the season. Considering the quality of their opponent, I don’t consider the loss as that bad despite the final score of 113-92.
Here are three reasons Rocket fans can avoid overreacting to Thursday’s poor showing.
James Harden’s Rough Night
We recently talked about how even a bad game for James Harden is still elite. Well, never mind. It turns out, even The Beard isn’t immune to having flat-out terrible games. Harden shot just 5-of-17 from the floor, including 2-of-9 from downtown, and didn’t do much else to make up for his lack of offensive production. It’s important to note that he played 40 minutes just the night before in Atlanta, but still, it was a rough look for the Rockets when he was on the court.
Harden’s minus-25 was the worst of anyone in the game besides P.J. Tucker, who also had some shooting woes of his own, going 1-for-5. The good news for Houston is that James rarely has two bad games in a row (and yes, he shot poorly in Atlanta, too, but he still finished with a 40-point triple-double).
Considering the fact that the Rockets are already struggling with nagging injuries such as Eric Gordon‘s knee, Clint Capela‘s heel and Russell Westbrook‘s fingers, a trip to the surging Thunder on the second night of a back-to-back was just too daunting.
After playing for 30 minutes and scoring 17 against the Hawks, Mike D’Antoni wisely decided to rest Gordon, which led to more minutes for Austin Rivers. Rivers, unfortunately, didn’t appear ready to go either, as he went 0-for-7 from the floor and didn’t score at all in 27 minutes.
Speaking of someone not looking like themself, Capela looked noticeably slower out there than he did against Atlanta when he scored 22 and pulled down 22 rebounds. As it turned out after the game, Coach D’Antoni revealed the Swiss big man is still fighting a lingering heel injury:
Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni, citing Clint Capela's lingering heel issue, said he is unsure if Capela would play Saturday against the Timberwolves.
— Jonathan Feigen (@Jonathan_Feigen) January 10, 2020
If Clint will be missing time in the near future, Isaiah Hartenstein will be expected to step up in a big way (and maybe not fire ill-advised 3-pointers early in the shot clock).
The Thunder are on Fire
There’s a reason the Oklahoma City Thunder have won 11 of their last 13 games. As discussed in our prediction post earlier this week, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Chris Paul are shaping up to be one of the most formidable backcourts in the league. They showed it on Thursday, combining for 38 points, nine rebounds, eight assists, five steals and just one turnover.
Over their torrid stretch, the Thunder have defeated times like the Dallas Mavericks, Toronto Raptors and LA Clippers as they continue to make a push up the Western Conference standings. It’s safe to say their natural talent was further boosted by the emotional charge of having their franchise’s best player back in the building.
Oklahoma City had all kinds of things going for them heading into the matchup with Houston. Fortunately for the Rockets, they have a chance at revenge within the next couple of weeks, as they host the Thunder on Monday, Jan. 20 from the Toyota Center.