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For Houston Rockets to succeed, Mike D’Antoni must use short leashes

Houston Rockets Mike D'Antoni (Photo by Kim Klement-Pool/Getty Images)
Houston Rockets Mike D'Antoni (Photo by Kim Klement-Pool/Getty Images)
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Houston Rockets Coach Mike D’Antoni can be set in his ways with rotations, but he’ll need to start adapting more when some guys aren’t performing well.

After two dominant performances, the Houston Rockets got their first taste of defeat on Saturday. It was a game they seemed to have under control, but one exceptionally poor minute of play was the primary reason the Oklahoma City Thunder were able to snatch a game to give them some life in the series.

Overall, however, the Rockets have a bigger issue that needs to be addressed sooner than later. The biggest advantage this team has over every other team in the NBA is their explosive offense. They’ve taken Morey ball to the extreme, using the 3-pointer as the ultimate difference-maker since Robert Covington joined the team.

The fact that all eight guys in the regular rotation for Houston can hit shots from deep is no coincidence. The beauty of the system is that the chances are low that everyone will be cold from the outside all in the same game. When one or two guys are having an off night, there are several other options that can be reliable to pick up the scoring slack.

How the Houston Rockets’ system can backfire

When this system becomes an issue, however, is when situations like Saturday’s happen. Eric Gordon has been a tremendous outside shooter throughout his career, but his hot nights have been few and far between this season. In Game 3, it was clear something was off with Eric’s shot early on, yet his ultimate green light came back to bite the Rockets.

Yes, the idea behind D’Antoni’s offense is just to let it fly and never hesitate, but when it comes to a point where you have someone hoisting 24 shots and only hitting one-third of them, it becomes a problem. That problem then grows even more significant when shots are being taken away from someone like Ben McLemore, who’s been unconscious from the floor all season.

McLemore inexplicably only played 17 minutes in Game 3, only getting two shots up and finishing scoreless for the first time since February 29th. Gordon, on the other hand, played 41 minutes and finished with a game-worst plus-minus of 29.

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Given that so much of Houston’s advantage is dependent on them being able to score the ball like no other, Coach D’Antoni needs to be aware of poor shooting nights while they are happening. This isn’t meant to pick on Gordon individually — Mike needs to have the same mindset for anyone not named James Harden or Russell Westbrook.

Eric’s miserable night against Oklahoma City is just the most recent example, but everyone on the Rockets has had nights where they essentially shoot the team out of the game while bench guys are champing at the bit.

D’Antoni’s reluctance to pull his veteran guys might be a force of habit or the fact that he doesn’t want to disrupt their confidence, but that’s not a good enough reason not to make the call. The Rockets are finally playing well enough defensively that they can afford to substitute more freely without the decision costing them too much on the scoreboard.

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If the Rockets make it through this series, opposing defenses will only get tougher from here, and D’Antoni needs to be prepared for that. Some guys have earned the right to play leashless, but the majority still need to be reeled in a bit before they end up costing more games.

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