Last night, I observed that the game against Atlanta was one we should have lost. Tonight, this was a game we should have won. However, the Rockets came undone less to the mistakes of youth and instead more to sheer fatigue.
If there had been anything to worry about James Harden’s performance for the last few games, it was the amount of minutes that he logged. 44 and 40 minutes respectively is not even remotely sustainable, and for that to occur on the first game of a back to back just meant that it was probable that he would come back to earth on the second game.
For better or for worse, he did. Harden started off extremely strong, scoring 6-10 for 15 points, but from there one could see the effects of fatigue on him throughout the entire game. He missed three pointers and stopped driving quite as much as he normally does, and a stretch where he missed four consecutive layups over the game served to emphasize this problem. Still, he finished with 8-24 with 24 points on the day, and while it was not a game to be remembered, but the fact that he still managed to score 24 points on what was ultimately an incredibly ugly game between two tired teams (Lamarcus Aldridge was even worse from an efficiency standpoint, needing 29 shots to score 27 points) ended up in a highly irritating Rockets defeat. Houston led for most of the way and managed to come back to take a six point lead midway through the 4th quarter, but the offense broke down to nothing more than the one play Mr. Drexler seems to know, “the high pick and roll,” and Harden isolations which ended poorly. Combined with hot Blazer shooting in the overtime period, the Rockets gave away a game which truly would have energized the fanbase in their home opener.
Still, there are plenty of encouraging signs to be taken away from this defeat. First and foremost should be the contributions from the bench. While one should temper his expectations with the knowledge that Portland’s bench is even worse than ours (as can be proven by the mere fact that Jared Jeffries actually played serious minutes at all), the Kansas duo of Morris and Aldrich played significantly well on the offensive end. Aldrich demonstrated some serious post moves such as a spin to the basket past a befuddled Meyers Leonard and had another spectacular dunk. Morris in the meantime had a good all-around game as he hustled, played defense, and finished with 13 points. Even Douglas, while as offensively incompetent as usual, managed to play good defense and prevent Mr. Lin from playing 40 minutes a night again. In addition, the team is clearly showing signs of defensive cohesion as Patterson and Asik make a very good defensive frontcourt (offense is a much, much different story as they repeatedly flubbed layups) and Lin contributed with his usual steals.
While the goal of 82-0 may be broken, the Rockets will have three days off before they face off against their toughest opponent yet in Denver. Hopefully, the rest and some practices will help create better cohesion against a team that currently still suffers from lapses in discipline.
- There may be players I may despise more, but there are few players who personally irritate me in this league as much as Nicolas Batum, which is all the more unreasonable given that it is for reasons completely beyond his control. All fanbases have the tendency to massively overrate their young prospects, which combined with the rabid fervor of Portland fans, served to elevate the young player’s trade value and discussion about their potential to ludicrous heights. Batum was the unfortunate victim of this phenomenon, where Blazers fans and their management at one point seemed to hesitate including him in a theoretical trade for Chris Paul. Batum is far from alone (Rodrigue Beaubois and currently Derrick Favors are the latest targets of my irritation), but that sort of overrating of potential has always given me a sour taste in my mouth regarding him. However, their reasons can be understood when one examines his play as well as the fact that the Blazers seem to win or lose depending on his consistency. Tonight, he played well, shooting 4-6 from the 3 point line including one which gave the Blazers in overtime. Batum ultimately was the difference between the Blazers’ first and second halves.
- One may understand it when Marcus Morris begins shooting three pointers (though not in the volume that he tried against Atlanta), but it is a different matter when Patrick Patterson does it. Patterson did possess a semblance of a 3 point shot at Kentucky, and he clearly is attempting this with the favor of Coach McHale. Still, the fact that he is only 1 for 6 for the season makes you wonder whether this is the best solution, as Asik cannot be expected to rebound the ball against two players. While Patterson’s field goal percentage and +/- may suggest that he was terrible, he and Asik combined to generally hound Aldridge throughout the game and especially in the 4th quarter.
- While it was hardly a surprise, it is good to see the crowd energized for the home opener. Houston, for better or for worse, is a bandwagon city in the field of sports, as merely a quick glance at the Astros can reveal. Still, while this team is not going to be winning any rings this year, it is a team that has a clear direction and clear upside, and that should hopefully be enough to attract new fans. Combine that with the fact that our two stars are easy to identify and market for completely different reasons and one can hope that even in a year where this city will be consumed by title hopes in football, there will be those who can pay attention to the Rockets.