So, ladies and gentlemen (Who am I kidding, gentlemen…) the good guys fall to 2-6 with a close loss to the Seattle Super… Oklahoma City Thunder tonight on the second night of a back-to-back. The game seemed lethargic throughout and picked up intermittently. Tonight we saw Kevin McHale get creative with the lineup, some impressive production from Chandler Parsons, and overall some very disappointing execution towards the end. I had fun watching this game after the first quarter and wound up hating myself by the end.
I’m going to use the three up and three down format along with a bit of caveat at the end, mostly because I’m ripping the format from other SBNation sites and some done right here. So buckle up cause you’re in for a disappointment!
Chandler Parsons: My beloved rookie of face-punchitude showed tonight that he has some cut as a point forward if the need be. Parsons stat line won’t jump out at you with 2 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 assists but his defense on Kevin Durant can’t be understated. Parsons often seemed like the only Rocket willing to mix it up for the ball and willing to take the point on the 3 man weave and drive set the Rockets seem fond of running without Kyle directing traffic. At 6’10" Parsons was able to use his length to bother Kevin Durant and make him work while he was on the court (Kevin Durant scored 27 points on 25 shots). I always caution with rookie performances that their entire first year can be a mirage but for this year, since there’s so few scouting reports and tape on them it’s tough to plan around them.
McHale’s Lineup Shuffling: Entering the night the usual line up of Lowry/Martin/Budinger/Scola/Hill was impossible given Jeff Adrien’s ability to knock out a team’s best player and Dragic wasn’t enough to keep that lineup afloat. Tonight the Rockets put out Dragic/Martin/Parsons/Scola/Dalembert. I feel like this was for more length to bother the Thunder, and it worked, but unfortunately rebounding is not this unit’s strong suit. Granted this lineup tallied 19 rebounds out of a total 41 rebounds, good for half, but by watching the first quarter you would guess it was much less. After suffering through that debacle McHale shuffled his roster and made proper adjustments because the rebounding picked up. This shows proper adjustment and he’s playing the hand he’s dealt with the Flynn/Budinger lineup producing a combined -19 on the floor (-17 coming from Chase). I think Kevin did what he could and got the most out of his guys trying to keep them fresh.
Goran Dragic: Dragic followed up a double/double with 10/11 with a 20/8 night. I’m a fan of the fact that he can produce what he can and I was a fan of his moves towards the end of the game, right up until he passed to the first row at the Toyota Center (Which, admittedly some people were there, which means it’s easy to get confused that a player was open). I’m happy that he’s the Ryan Fitzpatrick of this team, a back up forced to start and capable of some impressive and some frustrating things. Goran and Fitzy will both get you something steady and will only implode when everything else is crumbling around them.
First Quarter Rebounding: It was abysmal to start, as bad as 16-1 at the beginning of the first. This is mitigated by the fact that the only real rebounder on the floor was Samuel Dalembert and the Thunder were happy to play volleyball on the court to keep it away from him. These problems were resolved as the game went on but there’s no excuse for the production we saw at the beginning of the game.
Late Game Execution: Face it folks, these Rockets are young and inexperienced. Our veterans on the roster aren’t really the leadership type a la Chuck Hayes and Kevin is going to have to instill things in this team. It’s still early in the season and Kevin is placing his mark on this team. Dragic had a critical turnover but he also kept us alive at the end of the game. The team did manage to execute its plays but not play with enough calm to can the right shots or to slide where they needed to. Granted, any team tasked with overcoming Joey Crawford has a tall order but the Rockets had their foot down on the throttle and were forced to let up. They lead by as much as 10 in this game and the bench coughed it up. The bench managed to take that lead and fritter it away but what can you do when you’re dealing with what the Rockets have left?
Prospects: The Rockets are now 2-6 and through the first ten Morey was saying 3-7 would be coming out of it alright, 4-6 would be nicer. As it stands the Rockets have to play Charlotte, and San Antonio left. The Rockets can beat the Bobcats and certainly can beat the Spurs, as they’ve shown. I feel like 4-6 is attainable but that depends on the health of Kyle Lowry and how the team continues to manage halftime adjustments. Rockets fans need to understand this is a work in progress with lineups that will demand a great deal of tinkering and that is going to cost this team some wins. In the two wins they have accumulated, they’ve been impressive. The Rockets have faced a tough slate but we discussed this before in the fact that this team has not really changed and faces a Western Conference that improved across the board (generally). When you stay put but the rest of the water rises around you, there comes a point where you start to drown.
A Heads Up
The game tonight showed that Houston is in a place where they know they can compete it’s a matter of closing out games. I’m not a fan of the "learn how to win" idea because these guys are players, they know how to win, it’s asinine to assume they don’t. The Rockets need talent infusion and to not piss away a quarter of basketball recreationally. There are question marks at SF, an injury to Lee and Lowry shows how vulnerable we are at the 1 and 2 spots, and there isn’t enough muscle on the frontline to go head to head with any serious teams. The Thunder are a close model for the Rockets to follow. Stock your team with athletic players, get one with a lot of talent (Doesn’t even need to be at Duran’t level, so don’t use that line) and pair it with a beefy guy in the middle and teams will struggle. Lowry can pull the Westbrook role now we just need to find a rare talent at the 2 or 3 and we’ll be fine (As I find Dalembert can play the Perkins role).
Rockets fans also need to admit a few things when judging the game. Yes, some players make terrible moves but you need to watch the team rather than the individual. Flynn makes a lot of dumb plays, he also gets caught out in no man’s land when his team doesn’t try to get open and he gets the blame for dribbling things out, he deserves some, of course, but if his team isn’t helping his case as the point guard, the team needs a criticism as well. The next thing that needs to be admitted is that the Rockets are stocked with guys who can score, few who can do anything else, there’s a reason I was a Kawhi Leonard/Chris Singleton fan in this last draft as opposed to Morris. The Rockets need help defensively at the 3 and should have gone that route last year. I’m hoping the Rockets do poor enough to draft strong this year, I really do. I am still excited for this year’s roster and watching this team go forward but as a team where I get to watch Jordan Hill improve game to game.