After flaming out in the first round last year, all anyone inside or outside the Rockets organization has talked about is defense. Well, it’s clear tonight that Houston is truly committed to bringing defense back. The Dallas Mavericks, who have averaged around 110 points this season, finished with just 92 points against a Rockets team with no Dwight Howard. Trevor Ariza contributed on the defensive end despite a miserable offensive performance, and James Harden will finally get to be called “defensive” after a great job guarding Monta Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki on the final two possessions. Houston is starting to look like the teams coached back by Jeff Van Gundy several years ago – both in the good and the bad.

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Rockets Roundup: 11/21/14

A quick and digestible look at the most top-of-mind Rockets news of the past few days. 

Houston Chronicle. Five thoughts on Rockets’ 98-92 loss to the Lakers

“The Rockets’ frontcourt issues remain clear and tough to overcome. There is no surprise that they would have difficulty without Dwight Howard, having become so dependent on Howard and James Harden. But as difficult as it was always going to be to have rookie Tarik Black and Joey Dorsey as his backups, the absence of Terrence Jones has taken a toll with no end in sight…the Rockets are getting almost no scoring from their centers and power forwards other than Howard. Rockets coach Kevin McHale said he had “no idea” how long Howard would be out. Jones is not close to a return.”

CBS Local. Breaking it down: What happened to the Rockets’ offense? 

“With 2:42 to play Wednesday night at Toyota Center, James Harden drained a 20-foot step-back jumper to put the Rockets up 91-86 over the Lakers, but over their last six possessions of the game, they scored a single point and lost 98-92. I’m going to take a look at the four possessions that followed Harden’s bucket and figure what happened why they didn’t succeed, and how they could’ve.  I’ve ignored the final two times the Rockets had the ball because the Lakers were up by two possessions with 22 seconds left, putting the Rockets in desperation mode.”

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How could the Rockets cap off a week and a half of terrible games, ugly wins and an unwatcheable loss? Well, now we have the answer: an embarrassing loss to a terrible team. Houston’s ongoing goal to put together the most miserable game experience in history is really coming along, and will hopefully be capped off by a 54-50 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, complete with a dagger by ex-Rocket Robert Covington. Dwight Howard suddenly and unexpectedly chose not to play due to complaints of a sore knee, sure. Terrence Jones has been out for ages with a nerve issue and may not play for some time. Yes, this is true. The fact remains, however, that the Rockets lost a game they not only should have won, but needed to win and were expected to win. And the best part is this:

This is not rock bottom. There’s plenty more down from here.

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Big men have evolved. Will Dwight Howard?

Please drive this man properly

In school, I was introduced to a sociological theory that suggested institutional change occurs without anyone noticing. Those few individuals or firms who are aware of the change earliest, either through foresight, cheating, or dumb luck, then become institutional leaders. Failure to recognize and adapt to institutional changes results in falling behind. Most unwilling to recognize and adapt to change are firms who were once leaders and believe that their behavior, which led to their success, does not require alteration. Meanwhile the ground beneath them shifts.

Dwight Howard is the last of a dying breed. Twenty years ago, NBA teams were built around dominant big men who established themselves in the post and never moved from there. They were the types who “you could just throw the ball to,” to quote Kenny Smith.

However, the ground shifted. The NBA changed in a way that makes big men behave differently in order to be effective. They post less, shoot jump shots, and pass regularly. Dwight Howard and the Houston Rockets, enamored by old videos, the legacy of Houston centers, and their power post head coach, don’t seem to have received the memo. It’s 2014, but they think it’s 1998.  As a result, Howard has become a Maserati that is being driven like a Buick.

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in essays

As it turns out, it’s not good for a team to have twice as many turnovers as their opponent. Shooting 10% worse from the field and 18% worse from three point range doesn’t help either. The big story here is that playing terribly isn’t a good way to win basketball games. On the plus side, the Rockets’ pet project since Mexico City is coming to fruition. Their quest to create the most miserable and disappointing game of basketball possible. Their outings against Philadelphia and Oklahoma City were good tries, but ending with a win took some of the sting off. That was a mistake the Rockets didn’t make again. Being humiliated by the Memphis Grizzlies was absolutely their worst game of the year, a masterwork of falling back on bad habits that had as many layers as any James Joyce novel.

First, an important note. The Memphis Grizzlies are exceedingly good. This team played their best game of the year, to be sure, but has been solid all season long. They’re 10-1 for a reason, and are a legitimate threat out west yet again. Their defense remains cloying and frustrating for opponents, their roster still boasts an amazing team fit and a united mentality, and just to add another level of superiority, they’re a better shooting team this year, mediating one of their biggest flaws in recent years. Until Zach Randolph’s play falls off a cliff due to age, this team (like about 6 others) remains a threat to go to the NBA Finals any given year. The question now is whether the Rockets are also in that category.

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