The Rockets view from 20 games down.

The team lost in Chicago after an heroic comeback that gave them the lead with seconds to go.  Unfortunately 2-4 FT shooting from Lowry and Miller (who otherwise had great games) lead to Derek Rose making a very tough 3pt attempt at the buzzer and sending the game into OT.

This is the second valiant comeback squandered by non-clutch FT shooting that lead to a loss in overtime, the normally reliable Brad Miller missed one, as did Lowry.  In San Antonio it was Lee.  I've been so disgusted since the loss in Chicago that I haven't had the heart to do a write up.  Evidently no one else has had the urge to do one either, so here we are.  We had the Bulls and a win and we let it get away.

I noted during the game that these 1-1 pick point guards seem pretty useful, and that certainly appears to be the case.  Rose once again carried Chicago to victory against the Rockets, but it need not have happened.

Here we are at the 20 Game mark of the NBA season, roughly 1/4 of the games done.  The Rockets record stands at 7-13.  This is not where anyone expected the team to be in the preseason.  (If you did, you're overly morbid and should probably get that checked out.)

Jump!  Jump! Jump!

The Bad

 

  • The Rockets have lost 13 out of 20 Games.  
  • The Rockets have only been clearly outplayed in 3 of these losses.  This is both good, in that it showed that the team doesn't have a talent chasm between it and opponents.  It's bad in that it shows a failure to close out winnable games.
  • Yao has been a complete non-factor.
  • Everyone on the team, it seems, has sprained a left ankle at some point.
  • Brooks has been gone for a large part of the year.
  • Lots of new parts have been more or less integrated, leading to some issues.
  • Lowry missed time and is just now rounding into shape (as his shape becomes less round) and the Rockets played non-drafted FA Ish Smith significant minutes at PG.  Ish Smith was alternately brilliant and terrifying in the role.  If the man had a jumpshot, of any sort, he'd certainly have been drafted, because the speed, handle and passing are breathtaking.  If Shannon Brown can learn to shoot the 3, so can Ish Smith.
  • The Rockets D started the season in Houston Texans territory - more a notion than an actual defense.
  • Chase Budinger has gone from Instant Offense to Instant Missed 3pt Attempt - it could be his ankle.
  • Brad Miller missed pre-season workouts with a sprained ankle, and began the season looking slower than ever.
  • Courtney Lee looked befuddled to begin the season.
  • Jordan Hill showed a propensity to foul and get lost on D, leading to greatly reduced minutes and an overabundance of Chuck Hayes, Centre Manque´.

 

The Good

 

  • The Western Conference is, so far, less of an abattoir this season.  The current 8th seed, Phoenix, is 11-9.  With a strong month of December, which has a much more favorable schedule than November, the Rockets could get back in the playoff picture.  Really.
  • The Rockets have not been outclassed by any team they've played.  The lost to the Lakers by 2 to open the season, and beat them by 10 at home.  They've traded games with the Thunder.  Dallas and New Orleans outplayed Houston, as did Charlotte and Denver.  Of those 4 losses, only three looked like the Rockets would be lucky to win a close game, and only Dallas wasn't close.  You can look at this two ways, but I prefer half full.  If the team was routinely getting blown out, you'd have to think the talent wasn't there to compete, or the coaching was wrong, or the players lacked desire, preparation or both. None of this seems true, but there has been a talent gap - Aaron Brooks, who contributed nearly 20pts and 5 assists per game, while ceding big minutes to Kyle Lowry, hasn't been around.  Tell me that having one of the best scoring PGs in the NBA might not have helped us through our scoring lulls.  Yao Ming hasn't been around either.  At this point I'd say don't expect him, just be happy when he contributes.  It seems obvious that a combination of health and the team's record has lead management to view this as more of a comeback season, than a competitive one for Yao at this point.  But 62 games remain, and Yao will return.  What he gives us is anyone's guess, but I am actually somewhat hopeful about his future beyond this season.  Add in the fact that Lowry has only looked healthy and fully fit in his last 4 games, Brad Miller is just getting into form, Chase Budinger has battled a sprained ankle twice, and so on.
  • Yao Ming has been absent most of the season.  He was ruled unfit to begin practice today, some have speculated that Rick Adelman wants to keep him out until he's absolutely ready, believing, as I do, that the Rockets have looked much better lately, and it might be best to focus on getting the non-Yao team on form.
  • The left ankles are improving, Brooks is due to return soon, and he can come back slowly, with Lowry and Courtney Lee both playing well.  Lee is apparently going to get a lot of secondary PG duty, as he's just looked great recently and honestly played good D on Rose, despite the big make.  (Thinking more about it, you couldn't touch Rose in that situation, but fouling Noah without the ball, on his moving screen, made a lot of sense.  The Rockets aren't quite there with that sort of thing.)  Anyhow, Lee was supposed to help with big PG.  While Ariza was long, and could play SG/SF on D, Lee is smaller and faster, and can stay with SG/PG.  His offense is miles better than Ariza, and I wonder what people see sometimes, as Lee was basically described as not athletic by some when the trade happened.  Where the hell did that particular meme start, and were they watching another guy, Lee Courtney, perhaps?  Courtney Lee can jump out of the gym, and gets amazing elevation on his jumper.
  • Brad Miller, Jordan Hill, Kevin Martin, Courtney Lee, Ishmael Smith, Patrick Patterson, Jared Jefferies, Jermaine Taylor - what do these players have in common?  Not one of them has played in more than 45 games for the Rockets.  Lee, Miller, Patterson, Smith have played in 20 or fewer games each.
  • Of the last five games the Rockets have only given up more than 101 points twice, once in overtime, once in a horse race in Memphis, where they simply outscored Memphis and didn't really seem worried about losing.
  • Brad Miller looks like he has plenty left in the tank.  He's 7 feet tall, which, even with an inability to jump, or move quickly, has benefits of its own, one of which is that other 7fters simply can't move him around.  Miller was signed as a backup, and has scored 23pts in 24 minutes and 20pts in 25 minutes in his last two games.  The Rockets needed a spacing center, and they've found one.  As Brad's gotten healthier and more comfortable his value has been obvious.  He's gone over 20pts 4 times, at backup center, and has not played more than 39 minutes in a game and is averaging 18 minutes, though that number is going up.
  • Jordan Hill appears to be coming of age.  The mental mistakes are going down, the smart plays are going up.  The Sikma-esque post moves are starting to appear, and work.  Hill has his problems, but he's fast, athletic and a naturally good rebounder.  He's capable of excellent defense.  He's explosive with the ball around the basket.  Getting past his naturally very laid-back personality to reach the competitor within seems to be the main issue at this point.
  • Shane Battier seems to have found his game, adding good D most nights, unless faced with far too much athleticism (such as Rudy Gay) and is contributing points as well as defense.  The Rockets need him to score about 14pts a game, and he should be able to do that efficiently.
  • The Rockets have yet to play their #14 draft pick, who is doing well in the D-League and learning to play the Rocket way.  I think we may see Ish Smith go down to Rio Grande when Brooks returns, and Patterson may make his way up.  Jermaine Taylor is going to get some run as the #2-#3 SG as Lee's minutes go up.
  • Luis Scola is justifying his deal, and now routinely draws double teams as he operates underneath the basket and at the post.  He's getting better at passing out of the double team and finding shooters.  The nice thing is, there are shooters to find.
  • Kevin Martin has been as advertised, and can put up points in bunches.  Some people complain that he can't score in the 4th quarter
  • Rick Adelman doesn't coach losing teams very often.
  • The Rockets have signed Trevor Hoffman and Billy Wagner to be their closers.
So that's a brief summary.  I still say don't abandon hope.  This team looks to be coming together, and fortunately, there's still time to do so.  There's a lot to like, and this is a good roster.  Figuring out how all the parts work has been a challenge, and the Rockets haven't helped their own cause much of the time, but I honestly think there's too much talent here for this team not to make a run at a playoff spot.  Once there, who knows?  
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