While losses are never a good thing, I was not that particularly frustrated with the previous losses to the Hornets and the Celtics. The Hornets defeat from my perspective was the result of a night where the Rockets could not make a jumper and the referees briefly allowed the return of Rileyball in the lane, while a large part of the Celtics defeat could be attributed to a night at the foul line which according to the Rockets broadcast tonight, was the second worst shooting percentage at the line in the history of the team. While it was on the second night of a back to back, I did have confidence that Houston could defeat a Philadelphia team which barely had a .400 record and had lost five straight.
Instead, after a good initial six minutes to the first quarter where the Rockets led 20 to 9, Philadelphia took the lead at 22-21 and never looked back. The pattern of the game largely repeated itself from there, as Philadelphia would take a double digit lead, slow down, and then the Rockets would climb back to within about 3 points before Jason Richardson or Dorrel Wright made yet another 3 pointer or Evan Turner made a crazy turnaround and then the 76ers started off on another run where they created another double digit lead. A 76ers team which had not scored above 89 points since a victory over the Lakers on New Year’s Day finished with 107 points on a field goal percentage of almost 50 percent. While the Hornets and Celtics losses could be viewed as anomalies due to the factors mentioned in the previous paragraphs, this defeat was due to general failures on Houston’s part up and down the board and thus is much more concerning. Or rather to be more specific, up and down at two positions.
Jrue Holliday is my personal pick for Most Improved Player so far, and there is little doubt that he will deservedly play in Houston this February for the Eastern Conference All-Stars. But tonight he played like an All-Star starter as he mercilessly shredded both Lin and Douglas throughout the game. When the Rockets closed to a 75-71 score with two minutes left in the third quarter, Holliday instantly threw up eight points in those next two minutes and hit a jumper at the end which I initially believed beat the buzzer but was waved off. While Lin did manage to pick his pockets a few times, Holliday finished with a strong performance of 30 points and 9 assists. By contrast, Lin remained largely ineffective for much of the game. He followed up his good passing performance against Boston with another decent showing on that front with 5 assists and 1 turnover, but was repeatedly stuffed at the rim and missed all three 3 pointers he attempted. Douglas was little better at the offensive end as well, as he ran Toney Douglas plays such as pull-up jumpers and wild layups which occasionally work but more often cause one to question his judgment.
As for the power forwards? In yesterday’s recap against the Celtics, I noted that the combined output of Morris and Patterson in 38 minutes failed to equal that of Jared Sullinger. Tonight, the two combined to throw up seven points and 2 rebounds (0 for Patterson) on 10 shots, this time failing to equal the output of either Spencer Hawes or Thaddeus Young. To be fair, they were only on the court for 33 minutes because McHale ran with a lineup of Lin-Harden-Delfino-Parsons-Asik for the entire fourth quarter, but given all the interest in who would be playing at that position before the season began, it is utterly embarrassing for Parsons, who tries as always and had an excellent game tonight but lacks the bulk to actually play at the 4, to be the person at that spot for now.
- In the aftermath of the recent struggles of our playing power forwards, there has been lot of discussion of calling up Terrence Jones or granting Donatas Motiejunas additional playing time. However, while they have been heavily advertised, I think a measure of caution should be exercised before talking about them as saviors. While Jones had an impressive Summer League and preseason, he has not necessarily been lighting up the D-League as he has shot under 45% there. Motiejunas, by contrast, has shown in his limited minutes his offensive skills, but that has never been the concern about him. A mere glance at the Lithuanian should easily confirm the lack of bulk which he possesses compared to Patterson and Morris, something which is critical to surviving the roughness of a NBA basketball court. And the less I say about Mr. White, the better. While I can hardly pretend to know what Morey thinks about the struggles at power forward, I believe that we are likely going to see Patterson and Morris continue there for the rest of the season, and that the Rockets will look into upgrading it during the offseason. We are likely in for a bumpy ride, but that is to be expected for a team seeking to build around a wing superstar.
- Speaking of the wing superstar, a special mention should go out to a jaw-dropping James Harden play made with 6 minutes left in the fourth quarter. Harden brought the ball behind his back, dribbled it between his legs, went up against Spencer Hawes, and finished the basketball while drawing a technical foul from the angry center. A YouTube video, credit to the Rockets fansite Clutchfans, shows what transpired far better than my meager descriptions. Obviously there have been great moments since Dream left, but that has to be one of the most amazing singular plays pulled off by a Rocket since him. Still, even a player this incredible will need some help in order to win, and Harden will need a second option better than Chandler Parsons if the Rockets are to go anywhere.
Fortunately, there will be no Houston basketball tomorrow as the Texans prepare to upset New England, but the next game will be on Tuesday against the rising Clippers. After blowing three games against less dangerous teams, the now 8th-seeded Rockets will need to beat an extremely good one to end this skid.