First half lead? Check. Miss anything and everything in the third? Check. Get pushed around in the paint like shopping carts? Check. Unfortunately, the Rockets' modus operandi these last three games has gotten very predictable.
In another game with serious playoff implications, the Rockets left their shooting touch in the locker room after the first half. The team had ridden Chase Budinger and Luis Scola to a six point halftime lead, but the worst was yet to come.
Marcus Camby's back stiffened up at halftime, forcing the team to start Dalembert at center to start the second half. Needless to say, the results were not pretty. Their first possession down the court, the Nuggets gave Kosta Koufos the ball in the post, who promptly scored over Dalembert on a quick move. Camby's discipline was missed as the Nuggets brought the ball into the paint, pump-faked, and scored past a jumping Dalembert with ease.
But perhaps the loss of Dalembert was most noticeable on the offensive end. Despite Camby's scoring inconsistency, he takes care of the ball and passes well. Dalembert, on the other hand, turned the ball over twice in less than seven minutes, leading to a relegation to the bench for the rest of the game.
As the Rockets clanked shot after shot in the third, the Nuggets shoved the ball down the Rockets throats on the other end, scoring bucket after bucket in transition. Corey Brewer, Kenneth Faried, and Andre Miller raced up the court while the Rockets guards were left scratching their heads, giving the Nuggets a 29-10 advantage on the fast break for the game.
By the time the fourth quarter rolled around, the game was nearly out of reach. The Rockets enjoyed another exercise in futility for six minutes before McHale threw in the towel and gave players who had an interest in playing some time on the court. When it was all said and done, the Nuggets had cruised to a 101-86 victory, breaking away from the Rockets to the seventh seed.
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Three Random Observations
1. Marcus Morris Looked Quite Sharp
Everybody and their mother knows that garbage time minutes don't say a lot about a player's viability to be in the rotation, but Marcus Morris' moves looked much more decided and sharp than they did a few weeks ago in his brief stint as a rotation player.
When the Rockets moved Morris back to small forward, I was interested to see how long it would take for him to look like a wing, both in terms of scoring and ball-handling. Tonight, he looked the part, carrying the ball down the court and executing some solid dribble moves. Additionally, he used his size to his advantage on a pair of scoring moves in mid-range. I don't have any expectation for him to contribute this season, but the steady progression gives me hope for the future.
2. The Rockets Are Tired
After three games in a row where the Rockets looked checked out after the half, it's becoming apparent that these world class athletes are running out of gas. Teams sometimes hit a wall even in a normal season; now, with the tightened schedule, the fall off is even worse.
As casual viewers, we tend to throw around accusatory words like "lazy" and "not ready to play" after games like these, but perhaps "exhausted" would be the most apropos. Courtney Lee and Goran Dragic have carried too big a load for too long, and their jump shots are simply not falling with the same consistency that they used to. Lee especially doesn't seem to have the same lift around the rim, and this lack of energy has shown in the box score.
At this point, there's not much McHale can do to remedy these tired legs except to field a deeper rotation, but at the same time he must be hesitant to trust unproven players this late in the season.
3. Patrick Patterson Has Been Awful
There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it, no single player on the Rockets has played as consistently poorly as Patrick Patterson through March and April. Patrick Patterson is a big man with a nice mid-range shot, but he's shot 40% from the field over a two month stretch. That's rough.
Honestly, if the Rockets hadn't factored Patterson into their future plans as much as they have, he could be out of the rotation right now. Given that there are few alternatives and the Rockets are still hoping for him to be the power forward of the future, he'll continue to play serious minutes. Still, he needs to put the ball in the basket at some point or he could be tossed aside.
The Rockets play the Nuggets tomorrow night at home at 7 PM CT. If you're free, go out and cheer them on!