As the Houston Rockets lose again, we have to understand that everything in this world has its weakness. For Superman, it is Kryptonite. For Samson, it was losing his hair. For Stockton and Malone, it was Jordan and Hakeem.

And for the Houston Rockets, the great, terrifying bane which defeated this team was…the simple backdoor cut. Oh, and general ball movement. When one Golden State Warrior player (Draymond Green) has almost as many assists as the Rockets, you are probably not going to win the game.

Oh, for crying out loud, why am I doing this? Look, it’s New Year’s Eve. Let’s cut to the chase and sum up this game and this season with a few simple images.

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in game coverage

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I really don’t know what is there to be said about the Rockets that has not been said already.

We know what the problem is. At the core of this team is one single problem that has propelled this team from the Western Conference Finals to its current state. It is this problem which has killed the Rockets in pretty much every loss this year. And it is this problem which caused Houston to lose tonight to the Atlanta Hawks even while Houston shot 54 percent from the field and 55 percent from three-point range.

I am, of course, talking about the defense. Bad perimeter defense leads to drives in the paint. Drives in the paint lead to Dwight Howard or Clint Capela coming in to protect the basket. And from there, either the perimeter player makes the layup over them anyways…or the player misses, but now Howard is out of position and cannot get the defensive rebound.

That was the story of tonight’s disappointing loss in a nutshell.

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in game coverage

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At 16-16, the Rockets overall are shooting 43.6% from the field, for 24th in the league; they’re shooting 34% on 3’s for 20th in the league, despite leading the league in attempts.  They’re 20th in the league in rebounds per game, 6th in offensive rebounds per game.  Houston has climbed to 13th in offensive rating (102.6 points per 100 possessions), but is still down at 22nd in defensive rating (104.4 points per 100 possessions).

The Rockets fired head coach Kevin McHale on November 18, 2015.  Through 11 games, at that point, the team was shooting 42% from the field and 29% on 3’s.  They averaged 43.5 rebounds per game: 32.2 on the defensive glass, and 11.4 on the offensive glass.  They had an offensive rating of 98.5 and a defensive rating of 106.5 through that point in the season.  That offense was 24th in the league; the defense was  29th.

In the 21 games the Rockets have played in the J.B. Bickerstaff era, they’ve shot 44% from the field and 37% on 3’s.  They’ve averaged 43.1 boards per game: 31.7 on the defensive glass, and 11.4 on the offensive glass.  They’ve had an offensive rating of 104.7 and a defensive rating of 103.3.  That 104.7 rating has been good for 7th in the league during the stretch; the 103.3 defensive rating has been 16th in the league.

So the team has improved, pretty drastically.  Offensively, they look a lot less stagnant, though I wonder how much of that improvement was simply regularization towards the mean.  Every player was performing beneath his career norms.

After last night’s loss, J.B. Bickerstaff questioned his team’s priorities.  Such a public rebuke was quite the bold step.  What does he have to lose?  While his team has improved, barring a drastic turnaround, Bickerstaff is gone this summer.  He has to do whatever he can to get through to this baffling group of characters.






in musings

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Are the Houston Rockets any good? If you lock them in a box with another NBA team and let them play basketball, you should get an answer. Much like Schrödinger’s cat, the team’s waveform should collapse upon observation, informing us of whether they’re good or bad. Unfortunately, this team can beat the San Antonio Spurs impressively one day and then fritter away a win against the discombobulated New Orleans Pelicans literally the very next day. The Rockets are the thought experiment that Schrödinger designed to prove how ludicrous quantum physics are, and their continued superposition of life and death is just as confusing.

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in game coverage

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The Houston Rockets lost to the Orlando Magic on Wednesday because they didn’t play any defense.

The Houston Rockets beat the San Antonio Spurs today because their defensive intensity hit a gear reminiscent of last season and slammed the door shut on the vaunted Spurs juggernaut.

The personnel was almost entirely the same ( Marcus Thornton was a DNP-CD tonight, while Jason Terry was a DNP-CD against Orlando).  The Spurs are obviously a better offensive team than the Magic. So what was the reason? How did the Rockets become this good on defense in the span of two days?

The answer comes down to effort. Effort and execution from everyone on the floor tonight. And I mean everyone, including James Harden.

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in game coverage

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