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.
The story of the season was highlighted against the Mavs: No deficit is insurmountable. No lead is safe. Due to a confluence of factors, the Rockets produce highly volatile games where the outcome seems not to be certain until the final moments. This game included both sides of that coin.
The first quarter was as bad as it gets for the Rockets, with the Mavs shooting 77% as opposed to 33% for Houston. Everything a Dallas player looked at fell in, and the Rockets clanked shot after shot. As the game seemed to be escaping them, regression to the mean began to occur. The Rockets went on a tear in the Second quarter that almost exactly mirrored the Mavs in the first. They erased a 19 point deficit to come back and lead by 3 at the half.
After the hair-pulling frustration of losing the first quarter 39-24, and the terror of seeing Harden twist his ankle, Houston gave an amazing 42 – 24 second, and Harden played every minute of the Half, giving him 30 points on 10 shots, 5 assists and 5 boards at halftime. Unfortunately, the game continued.
The third quarter was a back and forth affair, with the Rockets taking a 9 point lead briefly, then ending the quarter up by 5. The fourth saw the Rockets make another push, leading by 11 at one point in the middle of the quarter. Houston then completely collapsed, suddenly unable to make a shot once more, and surrendering a ghastly 18 point swing in the last 9:25.
OJ Mayo and James Harden competed for most ridiculous stat line all night, with Mayo amassing 40 points on 15-26 shooting, 8 rebounds and 3 assists. Harden had one fewer point, but a more eye-popping box score: 39 points on 10-17 shooting to go with 6 rebounds and 9 assists. Only his 6 turnovers hurt his line. the Mavs couldn’t contain him, and he was the main reason for the big comeback.
Part of the big meltdown, however, was the ongoing point guard confusion. Lin played only 18 minutes. He ended the evening 2-3 from downtown and 0-1 elsewhere.Three assists in 18 minutes is about on par with his production, and he didn’t look terrible. He ended the game benched, however, and Toney Douglas had 38 minutes of playing time. Douglas continues to improve, though to be fair that’s not a great compliment considering how he looked at the beginning of the season. He hit half of his threes, including a huge one during the Mavs’ late run. Unfortunately, a complete defensive collapse at the other end allowed Mayo to seal it.
The return of McHale seems only to have only confused the already unstable rotations. Greg Smith picked up two fouls only a couple of minutes into his playing time and never returned. Cole Aldrich suddenly found himself on the court for 12 minutes, and looked serviceable if not good. Carlos Delfino once again was the clear sixth man, playing through the end of the game. His shooting, however, was subpar for him: 2-10 from downtown is not what Houston needs from him. Three point shots are streaky by nature, though, so an off game is to be expected, as long as it doesn’t persist.
Asik played for only 20 minutes, collecting a quiet 6 points and 7 boards. Patterson continued to shoot the lights out (6-8) but also continued to struggle to stay on the court due to foul trouble, though he ended with an only slightly low 29 minutes. Parsons had the second most minutes (41 to Harden’s unsustainable 45), but looked as though fatigue was killing his jumper. He hit only 1-6 threes and 5-12 elsewhere. His 10 rebounds and 5 assists, however, suggest that a back to back took a toll on his shot.
Fatigue can explain much of what happened late in the game, and it’s very likely Houston wins if tired legs hadn’t stolen threes from them. However, larger problems persists, such as high turnover rate. It’s not surprising that the youngest team, as well as the team with the most new players would have trouble holding onto the ball. However, Improvement must be made over time; it’s nearly impossible to win games when you give up 19 turnovers. Obviously, having the highest rate of play in the NBA contributes to that, as well as to the high volatility of games. There are simply more possessions in which teams can go hot or cold.
Despite falling back into sub-.500 territory, the Rockets still have a realistic shot at the playoffs, once things settle down and once they get to know each other. Despite having stultifying nights like the last two, they show great promise, once they can figure out how to use it.