Old Habits Bite Rockets, Lose to Lakers

Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports

The Lakers beat the Rockets on a last second Steve Blake three-pointer in a game that the Rockets had no business winning given their defensive lapses, failure to commit, and overall poor decision making and play.

The Houston Rockets hosted the Los Angeles Lakers from the Toyota Center and the result was a 99 to 98 loss on a last second shot by Steve Blake. The Rockets mixed things up with Patrick Beverley starting in place of Jeremy Lin and the Lakers trying to combat the Rockets twin tower line up. The Rockets played a frustrating game with poor perimeter defense, a late game clinic, a late game blunder, and ultimately, a finish they rightfully deserved.

Game Diary

The Rockets came out of the gate looking sluggish and disorganized. All too often their defense looked lackadaisical and confused on its home court. The Rockets flashed aggression early but not selective aggression. The sloppy play visibly frustrated the Rockets who flashed sloppy turnovers, bad shot selection, and forcing an issue that wasn't there. The Lakers managed to slash pretty effortlessly through the lane catching and getting open three pointers. With 3:35 left to go in the first quarter James Harden took to the sky in a monster dunk in an attempt to energize the squad. Houston began to pick up the pace from that point forward but the Rockets failure to contest threes, especially in transition damned the Rockets in the opening quarter.

Rockets trail by 17 at the end of the 1st with the Lakers shooting 66.6% from three (6 of 9) and 54.2% from the field (13-24). Rockets are shooting 33% from the field (8-24) and 14.3% from three (1-7). Both teams ended the quarter with 5 turnovers. Houston has trailed after the end of one quarter in five out of their first six games.

The second quarter picked back up with the Lakers, specifically Jordan Hill, attacking the paint and Lin showing aggression early.  Unrelated, but Jordan Farmar looks like a guy I knew in school... that guy was a total douche. McHale adjusted the line up to go with Bev/Lin/Harden/Parsons/Howard in the second quarter to pick up the pace. This is a lineup that is about getting into the lane and trying to put speed on the perimeter to make up for the stunning lack of ability to close out on shooters. Rockets go on a 6-0 run in 35 seconds with 7:30 to go in the quarter. It's definitely no Tracy McGrady level comeback but it's enough to reduce the lead to 10 points. Houston's struggles so far, other than its perimeter defense really boils down to two issues on display in the second quarter. Houston's free throw shooting has degraded something awful and Houston almost refuses to convert on easy points. Houston managed to fight its way back into the game but the Los Angeles three-point barrage kept dashing hopes of any serious run.  Harden attacked the basket and focused on putting fouls on the Lakers starters.

Lakers lead by 14 entering the half. Los Angeles is shooting 78.6% from three (11-14). Houston has shot 21 more threes than the Lakers while also only converting at a 66% clip. The Rockets are giving up uncontested threes but they're also closing out on their fair share of them and they're still going in.

The third quarter got underway with Dwight Howard post ups and defense keying in on Lakers drives. Blown coverage was the story of the quarter, yet again. The Rockets failed to close out on their man and abandoned their post-up game plan quickly. The Lakers shooting did manage to cool off but you can't keep so many opportunities on the table. Jeremy Lin drove the lane hard and hit a key three pointer to help key a Rockets run in the third. Unfortunately this momentum was quickly squandered with play that seemed more at home in a Wizards/Suns game than it does a Rockets/Lakers game. Jodie Meeks continued to channel his inner Reggie Miller but fortunately the Rockets responded in the form of Jeremy Lin and James Harden drives. The quarter ended in a way that was almost poetic, really. The Rockets battled back into the game, played incredible for a stretch, then gave up some nominally contested threes, a suspect pair of calls on Dwight Howard, and the Lakers stretched the lead back out. The Rockets pull off a 5-point swing to end the quarter and finish with another awful pass decision by James Harden in traffic resulting in a turnover.

Lakers lead by 4 entering the fourth quarter.  Harden has 28 points and Dwight Howard has only managed 10 points and 13 rebounds. Jeremy Lin has contributed a solid 16 points and 3 assists. The Lakers three point shooting has come down to merely dominating 56%.

The fourth quarter kicked off with basketball that seemed tentative if you can describe fast paced break-neck basketball tentative. Both teams are feeling each other out trying to strike where it's prudent to do so. The Rockets tie it up at 84 a piece at the 9:57 mark, a situation they haven't found themselves in since tipoff. The Rockets switched to a 3-2 zone defense early in the fourth quarter to help try to counter the Lakers 3 point attack. Unfortunately after a good defensive showing James Harden dribbled away 18 seconds of the shot clock for a violation. This team is a magnet for three-second violations offensively and defensively. Rockets have the game tied, playing strong defense. Houston takes the lead with 3:49 left off strong defense. First time the game has lead since 4-3 to start the game. The Lakers elect to go with Hack-a-Howard with 3:23 left in the game. Unrelated note, if I have to hear another plug for the Bleacher Report I'm going to burn that section of the Internet down. If I wanted to know where I could flood my eyes with crap I'd Google Waste Treatment Centers in Northern Virginia. Jodie Meeks hits a big three to get the Rockets lead down to 2 points. A late inbound play to Dwight Howard with 53.8 seconds left up by 2 on a Chandler Parsons inbound had the heart racing. Ultimately it was that blunder that would damn the Rockets as Dwight missed both of the free throws and failing to extend the lead.

Thoughts from the game

The Twin Towers doesn't work. The small sample size of the preseason seems to be bearing itself out in the regular season. What I mean by that is that the Howard/Asik duo has been very unfortunate. It has subsequently destroyed Asik's production (And therefore, value). Howard's production has increased on the boards but his offensive production could be much more than it is with some room for Howard to operate.

If interior defense isn't the problem then the Rockets sincerely need to quit gambling on the three-point line. The Rockets defenders continually sink in and gamble in the passing lanes to the detriment of giving up open three pointers constantly. There's scheming, there's mistakes, and then there's just plain poor execution. McHale needs to give this team an earful about their gambling. It resulted in a nearly 80% three point shooting half for the Lakers.

The Rockets need to establish a definite inside-out game. Their lob passes were atrocious and Dwight was passed up constantly on post-ups for ill-advised three point attempts. The Rockets spent all this money on Dwight in the offseason and he's a glorified garbage man in his current role. That's not good enough.

The rotation needs to expand to include Terrence Jones. A floor spacing four is the right fit for Howard (Obviously) and the entirety of Rockets fans know 48 minutes of a dominant center is a great thing. If McHale isn't confident in Jones or Motiejunas then a trade needs to happen and a player needs to arrive that he is confident in. Howard has no room to operate and the Rockets are squandering a critical asset by ignoring the realities of the situation.

Conclusion

The Rockets didn't deserve to win this game and ultimately, their devil may care attitude bit them in the ass. Houston played loose perimeter defense again, put in maybe 15 minutes of work defensively, and, in the end, lost by 1 on a miracle shot on a guy who tends to put a hurt on the Rockets when they play. A fire needs to get lit under this team to stick to home on the perimeter because Dwight Howard and Omer Asik are competent enough to man the inside without the need for help. That's not a free license for the wings to gamble and give up wide-open three pointers. A late game panic move by Chandler Parsons and a veteran savvy foul by Pau Gasol helped seal the deal on this game. This level of execution, when the game is on the line and some poise needs to go on display is what molds a team into a contender. There's no such things as moral victories but if the Rockets can galvanize around tonight's farce we called a basketball game, then there's hope for this squad.

Houston takes on the Clippers on Saturday at the Toyota Center at 7:00 PM CST, 8 PM EST.

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