Not especially close.
Sometimes it’s difficult to find much fun in these games.
The Rockets spend most of these contests doing so much wrong, it’s sometimes hard to see what’s right. Add that to the lingering bitterness of Harden’s departure and the Paul/Westbrook/Wall fiasco, and it isn’t all that fun as a fan just now. No doubt next season will bring a different attitude, and a team with a clear path for growth.
It’s strange to know that in any foreseeable game this season, and perhaps next, the Rockets should be considered a heavy underdog. Perhaps even an obese underdog. A morbidly obese underdog. That heavy. It’s not the underdog’s fault. No underdog shaming here, but the dog doesn’t look healthy.
This season, the Rockets are blasting their way not up, but down, aiming for a bottom three record, to achieve the best odds of keeping their pick. It’s not a tank, though, because I’m not sure what the Rockets choosing to win would change. It’s just being bad and losing a lot.
That said, there are bright spots. John Wall isn’t playing, for example. I’d like for him to play…better. We’ll see if he can, because there are two more years of his massively expensive deal on the books.
Seriously though, it’s good that Christian Wood, Kevin Porter Jr, JaeSean Tate and Kenyon Martin Jr. are getting real run. That some more highly priced veteran isn’t taking their minutes mostly because he’s more highly priced. The court time will help, and there’s no substitute for it. Every young Rocket should have enough reps already, or soon, that there can be a definite plan for their work in the off season.
In the meantime, the Rockets offense and defense are a shambles. Some of this is clearly due to the Rockets horrible injury situation, and the fact that they’ve started over 47 different lineups, having played 65 game. Often we fans think that it’s possible, even desirable, to put out every player on the roster, in any number of combinations, and assume it will work.
This season is fairly good evidence for why coaches talk about established rotations, minutes, definite playing time, lines of communication and on floor leadership. Because actual basketball doesn’t work like a video game. If a team runs out 47 starting lineups, presumably their best available players, in 65 games, it evidently looks like utter crap.
For the offense, it does no good to move the ball around with men not moving from their spots. The defenders absolutely know they can get right into the offensive player’s shirt. Both Golden State and New York have savvy coaches on defense, and know that pretty much no Rocket player will be able to punish close defense on them by driving to the rim and scoring.
Most passes are only for a three point shot, and because the defender can boldly play close to his man, even the catches are rarely clean. With not much player movement, the defense can just set up and harass the offensive players without worrying about screens, cuts or dives to the basket.
Because of that situation, when the Rockets DO attempt a three point shot, the defense is generally right on it, and the Rockets rush it. Tonight you saw it with the starters shooting a chilly 2-18 from three. Whatever the offensive plan is, that won’t get it done.
The Rockets defense has similar problems. The Rockets can’t defend the rim with either Wood or, really, Olynyk, and so they crash other defenders into the paint to help, if the other team hasn’t already made a layup. This means any pass out to the three point line will result in a defensive scramble to come out on the shooter, who has space because the Rockets are trying to pack the paint to at least guard the rim.
There’s a reason opponents are shooting such a robust 3pt percentage against the Rockets, and that could well be why.
It should all improve next year, with an off-season, a more coherent roster, and more development time for the young players, and more time together with the coaching staff. It will look better overall, but we can safely assume that won’t happen before the 21-22 season.
Until then, at least, Rockets fans will have to take bright sparks where they find them, few and far between as they are.
Hat tip to the Knicks, they’re pretty good, not that the Rockets offered much resistance.