After Sunday’s debacle against Miami, the Red94 crew got together to discuss what was wrong with the Houston Rockets. And as Rahat observed, even yesterday’s victory against Oklahoma City does not just make those problems go away.

Here are our thoughts:

McGuire: Allow me to begin this commiserating session by pointing out two things.

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in conversations

  • This will sound annoying, especially for those still high off the win, but I’m still not a big fan of a lot of things that led to the process, all of which are things I’ve been writing about for the past few years.  But I’ll keep saying it until I’m blue in the face: I don’t think you can win a championship with the majority of your set plays consisting of four guys watching Harden dribble the ball.  I said this weekend, or maybe it was in the roundtable that is due to be published tomorrow, that Harden would get hot again shortly and lead the Rockets to the win.  And while all might seem right in the world because of that result, it’s not sustainable at a high level.  You can’t just live and die with Harden, because inevitably, he’s going to have off nights, like the three he had to open the season.  Yes, yes, he led us to the win tonight, we can all celebrate, but I’m focused more on what happens on the nights he is cold.
  • Clyde mentioned several times tonight that “when Dwight has a mismatch, you have to feed him!” almost as if it wasn’t nearly an automatic turnover every time he gets it in the post.  I tweeted last week that Dwight’s the one guy who is doubled not so much because you’re scared of him scoring, but because you know you can take it away.
  • Despite bullet #1, Houston looked much, much better tonight in terms of movement, though most of that came in the first half.  Corey Brewer, in particular, was very active off the ball.
  • The play around the 3:00 mark of the fourth quarter that saw Kevin Durant deny James Harden the ball, with Ty Lawson then attacking the rim and scoring completely symbolized what was missing last year, and the hopes for 2016.  That play resulted in a contested Ariza 3 or a Beverley floater last year, with no secondary playmaker.  Indeed, this was Lawson’s best game of the year, with glimpses of what can possibly be.  A trip or two down later, Lawson ran a 1-2 pick and roll with Harden, getting into the paint and setting up Ariza for an open look.  Trevor passed out of it, and the team came away with nothing, but you could see the potential.
  • There’s really no reason Harden and Lawson can’t play off of each other, rather than taking turns, as the play I cited indicated.  It’s exciting seeing, and imagining the possibilities.  And it was exciting seeing the team, after years of frustration, actually have a secondary playmaker, someone who can make something out of nothing, and get shots for himself and others.  Harden and Lawson.  Let’s forget about games 1, 2, and 3.  This can work, and this is what they can be together.

in game coverage


Moving Jones to the bench 

I might actually try Harrell with the starting group, if things don’t pick up here quickly. And that might seem like an overreaction to his play, and to Jones’, but it wouldn’t be intended as a response to each player’s performance thus far. Jones historically, or at least last year, has fared better coming off the bench, seemingly playing with more energy. Harrell, as we’ve seen, already brings it, and might serve to jump start the starting unit. They’ve looked completely dead, and the switch might jump start Jones as well. There aren’t really many options for moving parts around with Harden, Howard, and Ariza already entrenched. And I don’t think it’s time yet to pull the plug on Lawson as a starter. 

in musings

  • As you all are aware, the Rockets were embarrassed again last night, on their home floor, dropping to 0-2.  This is not how anyone was expecting to start the season.  They’ll get better, with time, but there are some serious systemic problems, flowing over from last year, and really the entire McHale era, that will need to be addressed.
  • The spacing has been dreadful.  This goes back to the ironic matter that for a team so heavily dependent on the three-pointer, the Rockets don’t really have good shooters that other teams have to guard.  This was compounded by the fact, last night, that Terrence Jones and Dwight Howard essentially clogged the paint, in Jones’ case, providing nothing of any utility.  It’s a domino effect: Harden drives the lane, kicks out to a shooter who misses the shot.  On the next trip down, the lane is even more clogged with defenders, making it even more difficult for Harden to finish.  
  • The antidote here, as I wrote last night at the half, would be movement.  Instead of standing around and watching Harden dribble the ball, any sort of action off the ball would at least make the defense react.  This hits home at a fundamental problem plaguing the Rockets.  They’re going to get hot from the outside one of these games and all will be right in the world.  But the shots won’t always fall, as evidenced by these past two games, especially with mediocre shooters.  The Rockets need ways to generate points in those situations, especially against smart defenses.  There are good passers here; a simple backdoor cut would go a long way.  
  • As I’ve been writing, we still have yet to see Lawson and Harden involved together in the same play.  There’s tons of potential here, especially with the kinds of finishers the team has in its frontcourt.  I’d kill to see advanced actions with Harden attacking the defense off an initial pick and roll, misdirecting, and handing off to Lawson to set up a second motion.  That would really force defenses into difficult decisions.  Right now, as I wrote last night, Lawson has been relegated to a spectator when sharing the floor with Harden.
  • For his part, Lawson hasn’t been as ineffective as his numbers would indicate.  He’s created some nice looks with Harden on the bench.  But that’s the problem – he’s way too good to be just a backup point guard.  It will be up to McHale to find a way to make those two players work, when playing together.
  • Terrence Jones, again, completely crapped the bed, before having his night mercifully ended by Steph Curry.  Aside from the offensive ineptitude, which was on clear display, he blew countless rotations, even once drawing Dwight’s ire after failing to box out upon a Dwight shot-block attempt.  There’s little point in Dwight trying to challenge shots at the rim if his teammates won’t bother to have his back after the shot is missed.  This isn’t to say that Donatas Motiejunas is some panacea for this team.  But Jones’ play thus far has underscored how much we all collectively underestimated the impact of Motiejunas’ injury.  


in game coverage

  • I’m really puzzled by Houston’s usage of Ty Lawson when both he and James Harden are paired together in the game.  The Rockets have basically had Lawson stand around on the perimeter like a Beverley clone, watching Harden dribble away the entire possession.  Why not involve the two guards together in the same action, with a dribble hand-off or even anything remotely multi-layered?  There’s a lot of possibilities and the Rockets aren’t utilizing them.
  • The only bright spot was the short stint that saw Montrezl Harrell completely dominate the game.  With as bad as Terrence Jones has looked, it’s tough to see Harrell ever coming out of this rotation, even after Donatas Motiejunas’ return.  He’s basically perfect for this matchup.  Houston has wanted to play uptempo, but until now, aside from Playoff Dwight, hasn’t had a high intensity big along the frontline.
  • The spacing so far has been dreadful, with multiple Warriors defenders waiting in the lane upon every Harden drive.  That’s what happens when outside shots aren’t falling, and that’s yet another fundamental concern regarding this team which we’ve beaten to death.  If the shots aren’t falling, Harden is easier to slow down.  In turn, there’s no other options.  How about a backdoor cut or any sort of movement off the ball?  Is that too much to ask?

in game coverage

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