Through seven games, the Rockets have not had much success on offense. Houston is scoring only 98 points per 100 possessions, putting them at 22nd in the NBA. While this lack of offensive punch may be expected given the dearth of proven scorers on the roster, (Harden is the only Rocket with a career scoring average in the double digits) what is more surprising is the fact that the Rockets are creating and taking efficient shots but simply not converting them at an acceptable rate.
The Rockets as a team are distributing their shot selection in a very efficient manner. 38% of Houston’s shots are right at the rim and 35% are from 3 point range, percentages that place Houston 2nd in each category. The Rockets play at an above-average pace and attempt 32 shots per game at the rim (also 2nd in the league) and 29 threes per game, second behind only the trigger-happy Knicks. The Rockets only take 13 shots per game between 10-23 feet, by far the lowest in the league (in contrast, the Bulls take the most mid-range jumpers, at 34 a game). In short, the vast majority of Houston’s shots are from the two most efficient ranges on the floor.
On a night of great moments, my favorite came long after the final buzzer had sounded.
Adjacent to the court, there’s an area at Toyota Center maybe best described as the loading zone. Postgame, if you hang around–sorry, media and staff access only–you can see some really cool conversations go down as players from both teams hang out before exiting, sometimes with their families. I once saw a long encounter between Luis Scola and Jason Kidd and wondered what the hell they could possibly be talking about.
I hung out there for a bit last night after lockerroom duties just wanting to soak in every minute of the Heat’s only trip to Houston. Patterson and Jeremy Lin were there as were Shane Battier and GM Daryl Morey. But no Lebron or Wade. That wasn’t anything out of the ordinary – most of the time, the opposing team’s players head straight out to the team bus.
I left that loading area and headed back to the media workroom, on that same floor, which is basically just a room where us writers do our work after the game. As I’m settling in, the door opens and a Heat representative is leading Dwyane Wade and Lebron James into the room, the first time I’ve ever seen a player in our space. (I’m guessing they were being led through this route as a detour to avoid whatever at the usual exit.) James and Wade look at us typing away at our keyboards and we all stop; both parties size each other up in surprise for a whole two seconds I wish I could have captured on camera. We had all just been together minutes before in the lockerroom, invading their space as they dressed.
“So this is where it go down, huh?” said Wade smiling behind a pair of dark shades.
Added Lebron, “We in ya’ll lockerroom now!”
Someone in the corner shouted, “Could you pipe down?”
This heartbreaking loss for the Rockets was the most encouraging game of the young season. Moral victories may not exist, not really, but this is about as close as it’s possible to get. Despite falling back under .500, the Rockets looked like a viable NBA team. They took an admittedly tired world champion Miami Heat team to the very edge, and came about as close to winning as you can get. If LeBron wasn’t head and shoulders the best player in the world, and if the last two Rockets plays weren’t unmitigated disasters, they could have done it.
Those last two plays need some examination. If this had happened in a playoff game, those two plays would have etched themselves into the waking nightmares of Rockets fans for years. The first play was executed well, with the Rockets using good corner-and-back ball movement to pull two defenders away from Lin, who was wide open behind the arc with a chance to hit a game-winning shot. He failed to hit any part of the basket. If this was his only airball of the night, it could be chalked up to a fluke, or at least nerves. Unfortunately, he shot a three earlier in the game that was so far past the hoop that the announcers and myself actually wondered for a moment if it was a pass to Asik.
Because of almost two decades of failed franchise moves, mangled body parts, and semi-self-imposed irrelevance, forgive the Rockets faithful if their reaction to the first week of the 2012-13 season seemed more supernatural phenomena than pleasant surprise. As the folk tales of the new freak talent with the big contract and bigger beard spread throughout town, the conversation took on hushed tones in its reverence for and distrust of this coming era of good feelings, the crowds too used to the lean years to cheer too loudly again. Things changed, unspoken hopes deflated a bit, and now Rockets followers likely find themselves in the same head space with which they entered the season: excited but confused about the prospects of this peculiarly built .500 team. That wariness— the kind very reasonably clung to by people who just can’t stomach one more ninth-place-in-the-West finish— might prevail as the prominent state of those devoted to the red and yellow this year, but everyone involved must remember the new stakes, that this teams stands for more than the fifteen men on its roster, more than even the city of Houston itself: this is a team of change. [read more…]