Are the Houston Rockets in Danger of Another Fatal Collapse?

The date was Wednesday, April 11, 2012. The Houston Rockets sat seven games above .500 in the 2011-2012 NBA season, set to see the playoffs for the first time since 2009. With only nine games left in the season, all they needed to do to face San Antonio in round one was to win four of those games. All they needed to do was keep up the winning pace they had all season. And then they dropped six games in a row. Sitting at seventh with a chance at sixth, will this year’s Houston Rockets share that fate?


Coming out of the All-Star break, the Rockets have won five of their nine games, including a thriller against Oklahoma City, and a brutal blowout against Dallas. But the other seven games have included heartbreaking losses against teams with worse records, like a Milwaukee, Washington, Dallas and Phoenix. Wins in Golden State and Orlando have been close affairs. Are the Rockets of 2013 in danger of dropping from 7th to 9th in the west? With the Los Angeles Lakers a mere game behind them, and 9th seed Utah only a game and a half back, are the Rockets on a slippery slope to 9th place for the 4th year running?

The Rockets haven’t looked very good lately. The trade that brought Thomas Robinson to Houston seems to have disrupted some of the chemistry that led the Rockets to huge wins before the break. They only team they’ve blown out since has been a Dallas Mavericks team that turned around to edge out the Rockets in the very next game. Donatas Motiejunas, as much potential as he may have, is clearly new to NBA basketball. He gets in foul trouble, gets winded quickly, and misses rotations. Without the two power forwards ahead of him in the rotation, Houston just lost stability, scoring and defense at that position. Francisco Garcia is a cagey veteran, but hasn’t shown himself to be a meaningful upgrade over James Anderson yet. Patrick Beverley is a good option as a backup point guard, but Toney Douglas provided a level of defensive intensity Beverley hasn’t matched.

A loss against the Phoenix Suns isn’t a good look for a team seeking a playoff berth, especially when the Rockets not names James Harden shot 37% from the floor. And that’s against a team defense in the bottom third of the league. Eye tests aren’t coming back very positive, but what about stat tests? Surely, the Rockets have fallen off since the all-star break.

The Rockets’ average margin of victory has risen over two points a game since the break, from 2.9 to 5.4.

Well, perhaps that’s just an artifact of that huge Mavs blowout. Thirty-three points will tend to inflate averages. Their shooting must have cooled off since then to account for these close games.

Their field goal percentage has improved by 1.6%. They’re shooting 6.9% better from three. Their effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage have both hiked up by more than 3%. In fact, the Rockets have recently improved in nearly every metric. Even their efficiency differential has climbed. 5-4 is even a better winning percentage than their pre-break 29-26. Then why do they look so bad to the eye? Why are most of these games close?
The most likely answer is defense. At the same time as the Rockets have increased their offensive efficiency every month (up to a truly eye-popping 114.9 in March), they’ve been dropping in defensive prowess. march is the first Month they’ve improved defensively over the previous month, and it’s been a drop from a ghastly 108.7 in February to an only slightly less horrifying 106.2. As the Rockets have learned how to run and gun at a truly momentous pace, they’ve paid for it on the defensive end. If a team can make a slightly above average amount of their open shots, they can make up that six point differential with only a few hits, bringing the high-flying Rockets down to earth.

And on some nights, like the second night of a back to back, the Rockets’ turbo-charged offensive engine runs out of gas. Their offensive rating crashes and burns, falling to a bottom-five rating of 98.4. In fact, the Rockets are a dismal 5-12 on the second night of back to back games. The loss to the Suns looks predictable in hindsight. So what, then, does all this tell us about the last 18 games of the season? Will this year’s playoff push end in a shove out of the standings yet again?

Despite suffering some disappointing losses, there’s little reason to assume the worst. The Rockets have only three more of the poisonous back to back games left, against the Los Angeles Clippers and Denver Nuggets. While those are very difficult teams to beat with no rest, the Rockets would be hard-pressed to defeat them in the best of situations. The other fifteen remaining games should be subject to the increasingly potent barrage of scoring the Rockets unleash. Utah, Portland and Dallas all could make a playoff push, but all of them have much harder schedules than Houston. Even a collapse like last year’s might not be enough to land in 9th. The Rockets actually aren’t in much trouble at all, despite some ugly losses. In short, they just need to keep calm and carry on scoring.

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Total comments: 36
  • Sir Thursday says 1 YEAR ago

    I'm pretty confident this season as well. Unlike last year, it's not as if every team is playing well at the same time. The team we have to stay in front of is the Jazz...and they are on the mother of all slides right now. Don't see them causing us a problem down the stretch if I'm honest. Now looking at this more as a positioning thing - we should be doing everything we can to get to the #6 spot. Denver may be the second hottest team in the NBA right now, but I'd still prefer them to OKC or SA in a series.

    ST

  • Drew in Abilene says 1 YEAR ago

    Well, there's a start to sweeping the rest of the season!

    But in all seriousness, I don't think we're going to collapse this year. If we can pull out a win against OKC and San Antonio, we should be able to handle our business enough to keep a playoff spot.

  • ale11 says 1 YEAR ago

    Rockets win out.

    1-0 so far :D

  • Steven says 1 YEAR ago Thanks.
  • phaketrash says 1 YEAR ago

    No comprende.

    Quoted for posterity haha.

  • Steven says 1 YEAR ago

    QFP


    No comprende.
  • phaketrash says 1 YEAR ago

    Rockets win out.

    QFP

  • Steven says 1 YEAR ago Rockets win out.
  • thejohnnygold says 1 YEAR ago

    Yeah, this is a rough stretch--realistically any team that is not Miami, OKC, or SA should feel good to come out of this with a 2-2 split. I'm remaining optimistic, but grounded. I'd love to see some wins, but what I really want to see is consistently good execution on both ends against high-caliber competition.

  • feelingsupersonic says 1 YEAR ago If there is anything that happens in the remaining games that will be a collapse it will probably be in the next four games. But I don't think a collapse can happen when you have players that have all bought in as opposed to last year where the Rockets had a locker room revolt at the end of the season thanks to Lowry.

    Plus this year having a player like Harden would make a collapse nearly impossible.
  • timetodienow1234567 says 1 YEAR ago

    Fatal collapse? NO!!! It's basketball, not life and death. Plus they will win the next 5 games. Putting another game between themselves and the Jazz in the playoff race.

    You know what he meant.

  • Steven says 1 YEAR ago Fatal collapse? NO!!! It's basketball, not life and death. Plus they will win the next 5 games. Putting another game between themselves and the Jazz in the playoff race.
  • Freebird says 1 YEAR ago

    At least it would be over in a week.

    Better to get it done now than to have that happen after we've actually installed a defense.

  • thejohnnygold says 1 YEAR ago

    Don't get me wrong--I totally agree that however our playoff experience goes it will be valuable. My thinking is that if Phoenix, with Dragic, Haddadi, and Dudley, just abused us like that what would the Clips do? Espn would be showing a dunk montage on sportscenter after every game....and I do think they would all be blowouts if our defense remains as it is.

  • Freebird says 1 YEAR ago

    Not to nit pick TOO much, but with the acquisition of AB and Garcia, we're only second youngest now.

    Edit: I'm dum.

    I think a good butt-whoopin' is probably what they need. A 4-0 sweep. Make them think about why they are here, and how to avoid that feeling again. Give McHale a good off-season to install a defense, and have them re-dedicate to it.

    I mean, most these guys went through this in college already (see Kansas, Syracuse, etc), where they needed to create offense off of their defense. I understand the talent level is more difficult to contain, but the philosophy stays the same.

  • 2016Champions says 1 YEAR ago

    Even if we get swept in the playoffs I wouldn't call that an embaressment. We made the playoffs as the youngest team in the league.

  • thejohnnygold says 1 YEAR ago

    ... if we've made it harder it's only a little bit harder"

    Ha, that's easy for him to say....This is the NBA--if you have a weakness the other team has guys who are paid to find it and exploit it. I agree with the long term view--had to do it--but someone needs to get these guys up to speed on defense quick. I'd hate to make the playoffs, only to get emabarassed on the national stage as chris paul, Griffin, and Jordan turn the game into a montage scene from, "White Men can't Jump".

  • 2016Champions says 1 YEAR ago

    Morey in regards to the trade and how it affects their race for the playoffs.

    "Our goal is to get a championship, that's goal number one, goal number two is to make the playoffs this year. The good thing is I don't think those goals are in conflict with this move. We feel that Thomas Robinson has a lot of upside for the bigger goal of getting back to being a contender, and we feel that we can be just as solid... if we've made it harder it's only a little bit harder"

    4:00 http://bbs.clutchfans.net/showthread.php?t=234214

  • Rahat Huq says 1 YEAR ago

    ^Have to agree completely. People here hated Patterson with a passion because he couldn't rebound worth a lick. But there's a reason why coaches and the Rockets fell in love with him from the start of his rookie year. He doesn't make mental errors. It's hard to lose that and throw in rookies in the middle of a playoff run.

    With that being said, the trade was still a no-brainer. You had to gamble on a #5 pick. We'll see if it means sacrificing the postseason, though.

  • Jeby says 1 YEAR ago I agree with a lot of the sentiments below about missing Patterson. His one glaring weakness is that he doesn't have a nose for the ball when it comes to rebounding. But he did every other thing you expect from your PF: defend the post without fouling, rotate correctly, box out, set solid screens, hit open shots, make the right pass. He has become almost like a bigger, slightly more athletic Shane Battier. For all of the talent that D-Mo and T-Rob (he seriously needs a better nickname) bring to the court, they're still learning all those "little" things. D-Mo can't defend without fouling and gets lost on rotations. Robinson slips way too many screens, doesn't take care of the ball, and his late rotations on defense are only papered over by his extreme athleticism.
    McHale's like a director who's been given half of a cast that hasn't even read the script, and the show goes on tomorrow. I would hate to have his job.
  • Richards says 1 YEAR ago

    This actually makes a lot of sense. The more I come to understand why McHale does what he does, the more I start to truly believe he's a good coach.

    Would you happen to have an idea of why McHale doesn't rotate Harden and Lin's minutes the way Spoelstra rotates Wade and Lebron's minutes? It just seems like common sense to have one on the floor at all times and I can't figure out why McHale doesn't do that.

    McHale used to do that with Lin and TD on the floor. He played Hard the whole 1st qtr, rest Lin at 8 min and start 2nd qtr with Lin and TD. I remember those rotations were very effective. Yep. McHale stopped doing it. Not sure why. Some pairings of Harden-AB/Bev, Lin-AB/Bev would be interesting.

  • 2016Champions says 1 YEAR ago

    There aren't that many centers who can truly draw the opposing center away from the basket (Bosh and Garnett come to mind, but shooters like them are rare at the 5). Look at Aldridge for example, he's considered a good shooter for a big man but he only makes 41% of his shots from 16-23 feet. If we're smart wejust play the odds and give up that shot. If you look atthe Spurs style ofdefense for example, it's designed to give up mid-range shots and it usually works really well barring the occasional hot hand ie. Ibaka in the WCF.

  • Sir Thursday says 1 YEAR ago

    Dear ST: I'm recalling the Wizards game at Verizon center precisely, seeing Nene posting up against Delfino was very ugly, and in my opinion, uglier than having opposing SF drive through Delfino, at least that way someone (Asik preferently) could come to help, just like when someone passes by Harden. In my humble opinion, it's tougher to defend a mismatch in the post.

    Yeah, that late game bucket Nene got by backing down Delfino did seem a bit easy. Possibly in a late game situation like that they should have anticipated the Wizards throwing it into the post and put Parsons on him instead (dunno if Parsons would have been able to stop it either, but we'll never know).

    I haven't focused enough on the general defensive strategy to make out the Rockets' strategy as far as defensive rotations, but I know that a lot of the time teams will try to attack small-ball lineups by drawing the centre away from the hoop in order to attack the undersized PF. Often that means you can't bank on Asik being the one doing the defensive rotation to cut off a drive.

    ST

  • 2016Champions says 1 YEAR ago

    I suspect it's because McHale wants to put Parsons on the best wing player on the opposing team a lot of the time. He's a better perimeter defender than Delfino, and it makes sense to use him as such - when you don't have a huge amount of length inside you want to try to limit the amount of penetration as much as you can. If you did it the other way round, you'd get a lot of perimeter players blowing past Delfino and finding that the help defence is not particularly imposing (often it will be the PF defender that has to rotate to stop penetration, and Parsons is not going to strike fear into a driver's heart with his shot blocking prowess or anything like that). So this way you get the benefits of reduced penetration thanks to Parsons on the outside and the undersized PF has less to do. Or at least, that's the theory.

    Then you have to look at the actual defending a PF will do. Parsons does a good job when you put him on a low post threat (like Carmelo), but if the opposing PF is not going to be posting up multiple times a game then that doesn't matter so much. In that situation, the most important skill a defender can have (other than the aforementioned help defense) is the ability to keep a larger man off the boards, and I haven't seen anything that suggests that Parsons is much better than Delfino at that. I do think this is one area where Patterson was underrated though - he may not have got a lot of boards but I think he was usually pretty solid at getting a good box out on his man. Not sure that Delfino or Parsons can duplicate that.

    ST

    This actually makes a lot of sense. The more I come to understand why McHale does what he does, the more I start to truly believe he's a good coach.

    Would you happen to have an idea of why McHale doesn't rotate Harden and Lin's minutes the way Spoelstra rotates Wade and Lebron's minutes? It just seems like common sense to have one on the floor at all times and I can't figure out why McHale doesn't do that.

  • ale11 says 1 YEAR ago

    Dear ST: I'm recalling the Wizards game at Verizon center precisely, seeing Nene posting up against Delfino was very ugly, and in my opinion, uglier than having opposing SF drive through Delfino, at least that way someone (Asik preferently) could come to help, just like when someone passes by Harden. In my humble opinion, it's tougher to defend a mismatch in the post.

  • ale11 says 1 YEAR ago

    Assuming those advanced stats which said that we had great numbers with Parsons at the PF, I guess he knows how to play the 4, even if he is to skinny to handle natural PFs.

  • Sir Thursday says 1 YEAR ago

    Well, I get that we have no defensive certainties apart from Asik, and that is by Morey's design, what I don't get why Delfino is playing PF when Parsons is on the court. I mean, advanced stats showed that our team performed well when Parsons plays PF, so why stick to him at SF and Delfino at PF when Chandler is taller and a better defender? Seriously, I don't get that...could anyone provide a good explanation to that?

    I suspect it's because McHale wants to put Parsons on the best wing player on the opposing team a lot of the time. He's a better perimeter defender than Delfino, and it makes sense to use him as such - when you don't have a huge amount of length inside you want to try to limit the amount of penetration as much as you can. If you did it the other way round, you'd get a lot of perimeter players blowing past Delfino and finding that the help defence is not particularly imposing (often it will be the PF defender that has to rotate to stop penetration, and Parsons is not going to strike fear into a driver's heart with his shot blocking prowess or anything like that). So this way you get the benefits of reduced penetration thanks to Parsons on the outside and the undersized PF has less to do. Or at least, that's the theory.

    Then you have to look at the actual defending a PF will do. Parsons does a good job when you put him on a low post threat (like Carmelo), but if the opposing PF is not going to be posting up multiple times a game then that doesn't matter so much. In that situation, the most important skill a defender can have (other than the aforementioned help defense) is the ability to keep a larger man off the boards, and I haven't seen anything that suggests that Parsons is much better than Delfino at that. I do think this is one area where Patterson was underrated though - he may not have got a lot of boards but I think he was usually pretty solid at getting a good box out on his man. Not sure that Delfino or Parsons can duplicate that.

    ST

  • thejohnnygold says 1 YEAR ago

    Well, I get that we have no defensive certainties apart from Asik, and that is by Morey's design, what I don't get why Delfino is playing PF when Parsons is on the court. I mean, advanced stats showed that our team performed well when Parsons plays PF, so why stick to him at SF and Delfino at PF when Chandler is taller and a better defender? Seriously, I don't get that...could anyone provide a good explanation to that?

    I can only put forth that Delfino plays because he at least knows how to do it--even if he is physically unable to do it very long or very well....otherwise, it is mind-boggling to me also.

  • 2016Champions says 1 YEAR ago

    I read somewhere that Patterson was looked up to as the veteran of the locker room, and it seemed like he got thatveteran respect from the refstoo becausehe didn't get somany iffy travel calls or questionable touch fouls in comparison to D-Mo who seems to get alot of them.

  • ale11 says 1 YEAR ago

    Well, I get that we have no defensive certainties apart from Asik, and that is by Morey's design, what I don't get why Delfino is playing PF when Parsons is on the court. I mean, advanced stats showed that our team performed well when Parsons plays PF, so why stick to him at SF and Delfino at PF when Chandler is taller and a better defender? Seriously, I don't get that...could anyone provide a good explanation to that?

  • thejohnnygold says 1 YEAR ago

    The way I see it--after the trade happened we became highly susceptible on defense and with each passing game there is more film to study. Our back door defense is non-existent. Weak-side rebounding is non-existent. I wish we had snagged Juwan Howard off the wire just so someone could stand down there and know what to do. I'm not giving up hope, but the PF trades hurt us more (at least in the now) than anyone anticipated--I think we grossly under-estimated what they brought on defense...now that we know what no defense looks like.

    Oh, and the league should be ashamed of the blatant bias against Asik in the post. On both ends he gets hammered and nary a whistle blows. He's no rookie. He has established himself as a solid defender and rebounder in this league. Let's give him some respect, refs.

    People can, and will, blame McHale...but it's not his fault he has 1 viable defensive big man and a bunch of lost kids trying their best to defend in the NBA--Morey must take the credit for that. When you're playing SG's at PF in the NBA you're gonna have a bad time.

  • phaketrash says 1 YEAR ago

    We're not so hot with 3 days of rest for some reason. We're 2-2 I believe. With 2 days of rest, we're like 6-3. But for the rest of the season, we have 4 games left w/ 2 days of rest, and 1 game left w/ 3 days of rest.

  • 2016Champions says 1 YEAR ago

    So we're 5-12 in the second of back to back games. Thank goodness there's no back to back games in the playoffs!

  • rockets best fan says 1 YEAR ago

    this artical is taboo. I didn't want to mention last years collapse, but it has been in the back of my thought process. I hope we overcome this time .......keep hope alive

  • timetodienow1234567 says 1 YEAR ago While Patterson wasn't great, his loss disturbed the consistency that was there. We've had a revolving door at the PF/ backup C spot ever since. How can this team gel when there is no set rotation. Guys aren't sure what their responsibilities are and therefore aren't playing within themselves. That's just my opinion though.
  • rocketrick says 1 YEAR ago

    9 of the next 10 games are at home. Going 8-2 or 7-3 should further cement us into the playoffs. There are actually 3 back to backs left, the 3rd one is a second try at Phoenix the next to last game of the season. Then the regular season ends in LA vs. the Lakers. If it comes down to the final 2 games of the season, well, I don't even want to contemplate that. Ideally the Rockets can lock in a 6 seed and match up against anybody other than San Antonio or OKC in the first round.

    Being at home for such a long stretch should afford some much needed practice time with the youngsters, too.