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3 Burning questions after the Houston Rockets’ tough loss to the Clippers

Houston Rockets James Harden (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Houston Rockets James Harden (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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Houston Rockets James Harden Eric Gordon (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
Houston Rockets James Harden Eric Gordon (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)

With their weaknesses being exploited in embarrassing fashion against the LA Clippers, the Houston Rockets have a couple of things to figure out.

What was supposed to be a close battle between two Western Conference heavyweights ended up being everything but that on Thursday, as the LA Clippers defeated the Houston Rockets 120-105 in a game that wasn’t even that close.

The game seemed to be decided right after the jump ball, as the Clippers ended the first quarter with a 10-point lead and never looked back. The Clippers, in fact, went up by as many as 30 points in the game while Houston’s biggest lead was just two points early on.

While the final score was a slightly more respectable 15-point margin, it could’ve easily been more of a blowout if it wasn’t for garbage points in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter. For too long of stretches, Russell Westbrook seemed to be the only one showing fire and determination as the Clippers seemed to get whatever they want all game long.

From the play of James Harden to the team’s poor 3-point shooting, there are three burning questions from the poor showing the Rockets had against Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers.

1. Is There a Plan B?

It’s pretty well known the Rockets live and die by the three-ball. Against the Clippers, well, they died. The Rockets shot 7-of-42 from three, which is a measly 16.7 percent. A game like this can easily bring back terrible memories for Rockets fans of Game 7 of the 2018 Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors.

As everyone knows, that was the game the Rockets missed 27 consecutive 3-point field goals, which broke an NBA playoff record. Against the elite teams in the West, the Rockets can’t afford to heavily depend on the outside shot at all times. After their performance against the Clippers, that leaves the question: Is there a plan B?

It’s time for Mike D’Antoni to figure things out on both sides of the ball. As a team, the Rockets shot a terrible 36.1 percent from the field. This can’t happen come playoff time. It’s clear the Rockets are fully loyal to their small ball playing style, but in order to make things work as a unit, they must hit their shots and figure out a plan B if those shots aren’t going down.

Now that the Clippers own the tiebreaker against the Rockets, playoff seeding will play a major role down the stretch, especially pertaining to the second through fifth seeds. The Rockets can get away with poor shooting nights in a seven-game series against the lower tier teams in the West, but against both L.A. teams, it just can’t happen.

Perhaps a potential backup plan can be continuing to rely heavily on Russell Westbrook in transition but, rather than stand at the 3-point line, some of the Rockets’ role players can start cutting to the basket more often

At this point, designing anything other than hoisting up threes would be a great plan B. Just having a second plan for the offense in general is a step in the right direction for Houston. It’s truly something D’Antoni and the crew should seriously consider when their trifectas aren’t falling.

Next: No. 2

Houston Rockets Eric Gordon (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Houston Rockets Eric Gordon (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

2. What Exactly is Wrong with Eric Gordon?

In 23 minutes on Thursday, Eric Gordon shot 2-of-8 from the field and 1-of-6 from long distance, finishing the night with only five points. Gordon has been dealing with knee injuries all year, but it seems like hasn’t returned to form at all. Outside of his 50-point outburst against the Utah Jazz on January 27th, Gordon has been having a mediocre year at best.

The one thing that’s been missing for Houston is a consistent bench player to shoulder some of the load that’s always carried by Westbrook and Harden. While he’s been that guy in the past, Gordon has been the exact opposite of that this season.

Against the Clippers, Gordon’s shot attempts looked absolutely embarrassing. Even though he never hesitated as a good shooter is trained to do, some of his shots barely touched the rim.

https://videos.nba.com/nba/pbp/media/2020/03/05/0021900927/418/b0d67b8a-7527-8880-a201-5e46dc337ed1_1280x720.mp4

Gordon is averaging just under 15 points per game to go along with two rebounds and 1.6 assists this season The former Sixth Man of the Year is shooting 37.3 percent from the field and 32.6 percent from three in only 32 games played.

The addition of Jeff Green to the bench unit has been a good move for Houston, but he isn’t quite at the point in his career where he can be that go-to kind of the guy the Houston Rockets need on the bench.

In order for the Rockets to have a stronger chance to make a deep playoff run, the team needs Gordon to return back to old form, and they need it soon. A 2016-17 version of Eric Gordon would make the Rockets scarier than they already are.

We’ve written about this before, but if the Rockets want Eric Gordon to go back to being E-Money, they might have to consider shutting him down to fully recover from his lingering knee issues.

While he certainly had a bad showing, Gordon isn’t the only one on the team who needs to wake up though.

Next: No. 3

Houston Rockets James Harden (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Houston Rockets James Harden (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

3. What is James Harden Doing?

It’s getting to the point where James Harden is almost becoming as unwatchable as the media portrays him to be, whether it’s unnecessary stepback threes from 30 feet, careless turnovers or holding the ball for 90 percent of the shot clock.

After more than a handful of games like that this season, I’m pretty sure many are wondering what exactly is wrong with the beard. The ongoing joke about James Harden’s shooting numbers is that they look like tour dates. If that’s the case, the tour continued against the Clippers Thursday night.

Harden shot 4-of-17 from the field, which seemed to be another typical day for Harden in the 2019-20 campaign Also, not hitting a single 3-pointer in eight attempts is not a good look. In 28 minutes of play, Harden had a plus/minus of -19.

As the season continues, becoming more and more clear that the Houston Rockets are slowly becoming Westbrook’s team. The overall play of the team collectively seems to run smoother with Russ running the offense.

More from Space City Scoop

As tough as it is to say, James is having a bit of an overrated season. The Beard is proving that leading the league in scoring can be a disguise for a miserable season and that it could mean absolutely nothing as much as it can mean everything

Still, credit has to be given to the Clippers’ defense and strategy defending Harden. The usual small ball approach did stretch the floor, but Kawhi Leonard and Patrick Beverley helping out on Harden’s drives made it extremely difficult for Harden to get it going offensively.

But when have good defenses ever bothered Harden? That’s a rare occurrence since Harden usually finds a way to stay effective.

The Clippers did well on Harden, but in the end, this game was more of Harden beating Harden, and he’s doing so way too often this season.

It’s easy to chalk this bad loss to the Rockets’ new small-ball strategy, but that wasn’t the reason. Shooting 7-of-42 from three and not having a clue what to do when those shots weren’t falling are what lost this game.

Daryl Morey puts NBA media on blast. Next

Games like this happen for every team, but the play of the Rockets’ superstar, as well as their former Sixth Man, should be a concern moving on, especially with the playoffs approaching soon.

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