Boston Celtics 111, Houston Rockets 95: As scheduled

The Houston Rockets are a total dumpster fire. Few teams have the ability to give up a 30-point swing in 15 minutes of play, especially teams who once thought they were contenders. It’s hard to imagine this team making the playoffs. It’s even harder to imagine that they made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals last season, so let’s just stop imagining that.

Today’s exercise is to accept that last year’s playoff run was a collective hallucination and that this is, in fact, the rebuilding team we thought it would be before the Harden trade. They look and play just like a team that’s been tanking for years, so maybe they are! Once you accept the truth that the Rockets haven’t made the playoffs since the Yao Ming era, everything is so much easier.

The Rockets put up a good fight against the Boston Celtics, but sometimes reality just catches up to you. One of these teams is a budding powerhouse and playoff lock. The other is just now trying to win after a multi-year tank effort. The Rockets are hoping that James Harden can grow into a player of Isaiah Thomas’ caliber, but it’s going to be a difficult process. Harden had 16 points on 4-10 shooting, which isn’t his best outing, but certainly not his worst. He still seems to be unclear on whether he’s the primary ballhandler and point guard, or if he wants to be more of a pure scorer. Either way, he needs to get his turnovers down. It’s depressing that 4 on the night isn’t even bad for him.

Meanwhile, Avery Bradley looked leagues better than Ty Lawson, showing the difference between a playoff veteran who knows how to play in this league and a raw prospect who might be elite in a few years. Lawson’s 7 points and 5 assists were nice, but his defense still leaves a lot to be desired. We’ll have to see how he does next to Harden, and which player head coach Kevin McHale will eventually give the reigns to. I still think they need to learn how to play together, but they have years yet to figure that out.

Resident veteran Dwight Howard had an off game, but brought the mental intensity we’ve come to expect from him. He’s barking and scrapping even when things get bad, and it’s clear his tutelage has helped Clint Capela, Houston’s starting center of the future. Every rebuilding team needs some players like him to show the young guys the ropes, and he still grabs piles (12) of rebounds, even when he’s only got a few points (5).

The rest of the team still looks as spotty and raw as ever, with their promise still not being fulfilled. Trevor Ariza is very up and down on defense, but one day he should be a real stopper. He has the length and the size to really get into guys, and with experience in the league, and with a defensive-minded coach like McHale, he should make progress. He’s an avid slasher and three-point shooter, but it’s not clear just how good he is at either of those aspects of the game.He shot 4-10 from deep tonight, which is good, but he’s had more games than not where he’s just shanking them. His 4 turnovers didn’t help, either.

Overall, the game was lost by the starters. The bench unit, including exciting prospect Montrezl Harrell and iffy sparkplug Corey Brewer, blew the lid off and grabbed a 15 point lead in the second quarter. Terrence Jones, for his part, was huge in that period, and the young big man ended with 15 points on 7-14 shooting. He’s getting more confident and is developing some dribbling skills, which is good to see. What was bad to see was the last three minutes of the half, which saw the Celtics pull into a tie.

In the end, the more experienced, better-coached team will assert themselves, and that’s what the Celtics did in the third, winning it 32-13. The Rockets fought in garbage time, but it was over before the buzzer sounded on the third. The hope for Houston has to be that Kevin McHale will grow with the team, and his coaching staff with him. Young teams need time, and we just need to stay patient. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Really, we should be thankful that this team doesn’t expect to contend any time soon. Being an elite team right now is just an exercise in futility with the Warriors out there. And hey, if the Rockets make a big free agent splash this summer, they might be back in the playoffs sooner than expected. A loss like this is tough, but it could be a lot worse. At least they don’t have the weight of expectations pulling them down.

That would be pretty rough.

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Dallas Mavericks, 110, Houston Rockets 98: Failure