Nearly a quarter into the NBA season, the Rockets stand at 9-11, two games behind 0.500. As a team, Houston ranks 10th in offensive efficiency, scoring a robust 103 points per 100 possessions but ranks sixth worst in defensive efficiency, giving up nearly 104 points per 100 possessions. As these two stats imply, Houston has a negative scoring margin this season of almost one point per game. Extrapolated over a season, this translates to a 39-win team per the Pythagorean wins formula. A 39-43 record is almost certainly not good enough to make the playoffs in a Western conference that, outside of the 5 playoff locks (both LA teams, Memphis, San Antonio, and OKC), boasts a bevy of mid-tier playoff hopefuls in Denver, Minnesota, Utah, Golden State, and Dallas.
Tonight, a Houston team missing key players went up against a wily, clever team that has been contending since seemingly forever and proceeded to get utterly blown out in the process. And the Rockets also played basketball.
Tonight’s story was the return of Houston head coach Kevin McHale, who today ended a leave of absence he took on November 10th. He had to return eventually, and he chose the night of a home game against the Dallas Mavericks. He had been missed by the team and fans alike, and hopefully things will progress on an even keel for him and the Rockets from here on out. Everyone wishes him the best, but wins are a different story.
No Kawhi Leonard. No Stephen Jackson. No San Antonio player played over 26 minutes tonight.
And this game was over with 10 minutes left to go in the 4th quarter.
If anything could serve as a punctuation to show how far Houston has to go to reach the promised land of contention, tonight was it. San Antonio, to me, isn’t really great because of its players. Oh, Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, and everyone else are excellent, but it’s the concept of discipline, unity, and a willingness to work together that has made the Spurs the pinnacle of basketball excellence for almost the last decade and a half. Tonight, their ball movement and execution were as good as normal. At the 10 minute mark when they led by 30, San Antonio had 28 assists to 12 turnovers, while Houston had 17 assists to 16 turnovers. On a normal night, that alone would be enough for the Spurs to ensure the victory.