Remember the winning streak? That was nice, it showed what this team is capable of doing. And now we know something else this team is capable of doing - losing games in predictable and depressing fashion.
The depressing part isn't that the Rockets lost, I think Denver is the better team, and moreover a bad matchup for the Rockets. The depressing part is that the Rockets, despite rest, despite practice, despite playing at home (for the moment) lost in almost exactly the same fashion as the whole ugly, nearly unrelieved streak of losses.
Here's the story.
1Q - Rockets come out, looking a bit better, a bit more energetic, but almost immediately begin the festival of turnovers. For the 12th game in a row, the Rockets fell behind by 12pts or more. Coming back from deficits over 12, us a problem for most teams. A team like the Spurs is unflappable, they can chip away and make up ground while not having to go into a frenzy of effort. The Rockets can't do that.
2Q - The Rockets, in typical fashion, clawed their way back. We saw flashes of the good Rockets here - James Harden and Jeremy Lin attacking, the team running off misses and makes. Omer Asik looked pretty good in the first two quarters, defending well, rebounding well. Even Patrick Patterson, our latest scapegoat, played with notably energy and enthusiasm on defense early on. The team went into halftime down a mere two points.
3Q - Rockets came out in the 3rd like they meant to win this game going 5-5 in the first five minutes.Then it all turned to custard. Misses, fouls, and of course, more and more and more turnovers. Denver deployed their excellent bench to good effect, and the Rockets had few counters. Javale McGee had 14pts, 3 blocks in 16 minutes. When he looks good, he looks amazing. Wilson Chandler added 20pts in 26 minutes. Rockets ended the quarter shooting 5-17.
4Q - The game was essentially over, but we didn't see the whole bench, as McHale preferred to send Harden out for 39 minutes in a lost cause. The Nuggets lead reached 22 at one point, but Denver eased off and the Rockets kept it respectable, only falling by 10. The team that routinely scored through 120pts seems a distant memory.
Let's talk some keywords
Turnovers - Rockets notched 22 TOs to Denver's 13. The Rockets are going to struggle to win with turnovers through 20 a game. And then there's the nature of the turnovers. A good half to two thirds of them were just sloppy giveaways. I have no problems with turnovers created by aggression, by solid thinking that doesn't work out. That's not what we're seeing. Harden personally accounted for 7 TOs, but it was truly a team effort. No Rocket who played for more than 2 minutes didn't have at least one turnover. The whole team is throwing the ball away, Harden and Lin simply handle the ball more.
Fouls - Those who know me know that I speak my mind when I believe the reffing is bad. There were some bad calls, sure, but they might account for 6-8pts. Denver loafed to the finish line, so those points would make no difference to the outcome. Most of the fouls were legit, and they were the product of an evident lack of a coherent defensive plan or commitment.
Transitions - Like an over excited toddler, the Little Rockets do not handle transitions well right now. Transition defense is particularly awful, perhaps because Asik isn't set up to do practically the only defense work we're seeing. Rockets aren't running well off misses, and they've seemingly abandoned the secondary break, or any useful version of it.
Chucking - The Rockets are built to shoot threes. That's fine, but those threes are meant to come in the flow of the offense.They're meant to be wide open off motion or the drive-and-kick. We saw a lot of threes taken out of context because the offense was gummed up.
Patience - This remains the youngest team in the NBA. This is more like what we expected, even with Harden. The Thunder spent a good bit of time looking bad and losing, despite their obvious talent. Its hard to avoid, and we aren't avoiding it right now.
Lottery - If the Rockets truly are heading for the lottery, head there faster. No one wants to see the 14th pick again. If the Rockets are truly heading for the lottery, let's see the rookies.
Protocol - Looks like Royce White is going to join the team, without achieving all of his master plan. Anything else remains to be seen. When he's going well, his game is a pleasure to watch. And let's try to remember, this is a very young man who got a taste of the sweet sweet wine of self-righteousness and with a double adulation chaser. He got wasted, he got loud, and he barfed all over his career. It wasn't pretty, or endearing.
But a little scrubbing on his part, a trip to the laundromat and all is well. He's lost his security deposit, and used up all his rookie goodwill. Its going to take more than a few tweets to rehydrate his career. He needs to produce, and I don't expect him to right away. Time will tell.
Recipes - They may be coming. Soon.