Charlotte Hornets 125, Houston Rockets 109: Buzzed out by killer shots

The Houston Rockets broadcast team mentioned tonight that this team has not won the first quarter for 15 straight games. But for the next two quarters, this game against the Charlotte Hornets felt a lot like the previous victory over the Boston Celtics. The Rockets won the second and third quarters through paint control and a solid display by Dwight Howard. And while they could never quite secure the lead, it felt like they could finish things off in the fourth quarter.

And then it all fell apart in the fourth quarter, as the Hornets and Kemba Walker seemed to borrow Golden State’s shooting ability. It was bizarre, and rewatching the fourth quarter didn’t uncover all that much about what happened on the defensive end. The Rockets just seemed to be tired and too slow, which allowed Walker and Jeremy Lin ( who even without his mohawk continues to have hair befitting an anime character) to drive into the lane and finish, or kick it out to an open shooter.

But on offense, it’s clear what the problem is. Because while Dwight Howard and Houston’s bench played their hardest tonight, Harden was very passive on offense. And this team continues to need Harden to play hard and efficiently every single night.

Harden is shooting just 21 percent from long range over his past five games, hit just one three pointer out of 19 attempts over the past three games, and his shooting has dropped hard over this entire season. And while analysts have attacked Harden over his defensive effort throughout this season, it is the drop-off in three-point shooting which has turned Harden from a near-MVP to barely an All-Star.

Now, the Rockets as a whole have shot poorly over the last few games. It has not been a matter of defense, as the team is badly missing good looks. But the problem is that the team keeps jacking up three-pointers, thinking that they will go in eventually. It is not dissimilar to someone thinking that a coin which has fallen on tails the last three flips must fall on heads on the next flip.

The three-pointer is not a substitute for an offense, whether for Harden or for the team as a whole. And while Walker and Lin drove hard in that deciding fourth quarter, Harden largely stayed on the three-point line. He made some good passes from there, such as a nice feed to Michael Beasley. But he was all but shut down by the end of the game, which made any hopes of a Houston comeback impossible.

Also, one rotational move which was particularly interesting: while the Rockets started Donatas Motiejunas, he only played five minutes and was replaced by Corey Brewer in the starting lineup for the second half. Now, subbing Motiejunas out early made sense. Opposing power forward Marvin Williams was just too fast and too good of a ball handler for D-Mo to defend, and Williams led the Hornets to an early 34-19 lead by the end of the first quarter.

But why didn’t Bickerstaff bring Motiejunas back in later, or try him again in the second half? He was just fine offensively in the short stretch he played. Instead, the Rockets ran with Brewer or Beasley at the power forward slot, and Beasley finished with 15 points on 6-9 shooting. Beasley worked inside, which was good, and still did his annoying midrange jumper thing, which was not.

It’s pretty obvious that Beasley has supplanted Josh Smith in the rotation, but what about Motiejunas or Montrezl Harrell? Beasley played nearly as many minutes as those two combined. Could Beasley go from out of the NBA to being Houston’s latest starter at the power forward slot? If one looks at what happened tonight, it certainly does not seem fantastic.

Perhaps Houston’s passiveness at the end was just due to exhaustion, as Coach Bickerstaff seems to believe. It was the second game of a back to back, as well as the fifth game in seven nights. And since the Rockets did have good wins against the Celtics and Toronto Raptors, losing one here is understandable.

But with only 16 games left in the season, the Rockets cannot afford any more mistakes. They have made too many as it is.

Still, the Rockets are still the seventh seed thanks to Dallas’s defeat against the Indiana Pacers. And on Monday, they play against the fifth seeded Memphis Grizzlies. These same Grizzlies fielded a starting lineup Saturday night of Jeff Green, Matt Barnes, Ryan Hollins, Tony Allen, and a point guard named Briante Weber who appears to be on a 10-day contract.

The Rockets will probably be blown out by 40 points.



About the author: The son of transplants to Houston, Paul McGuire is now a transplant in Washington D.C. The Stockton shot is one of his earliest memories, which has undoubtedly contributed to his lack of belief in the goodness of man.

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