After two defeats at the hands of the Memphis Grizzlies in back-to-back games -- both of which included the Rockets scoring well below their season average -- it's fair to wonder: are big teams the Rockets' kryptonite?
The Grizzlies are one of a handful of teams in the modern NBA that still employ a traditional two big-man game, even when its bench unit comes in. Their personnel kind of demands it: none of Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, Kosta Koufos or Ed Davis has range that sniffs the 3-point line.
Unfortunately for the Rockets, the majority of team that do employ big lineups happen to be among the league's elite, like the Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs, Indiana Pacers, and the Los Angeles Clippers' starting lineup. I would count the Portland Trail Blazers in that group, but Robin Lopez's nonpresence on offense makes them easier for the Rockets to handle.
So far, against those five teams, the Rockets are 4-7, but three of those wins have come against the Grizzlies without Gasol and the Spurs without Tiago Splitter. It's becoming increasingly clear that this is a problem, especially because of the Rockets' success against the Blazers and Warriors, teams that frequently use small lineups, particularly with their bench groups, removing the Rockets' woefully undersized bench frontcourt as a disadvantage.
The Grizzlies outrebounded the Rockets 94-69 and outscored them in the paint 104-62 in the home-and-home. That's not a disparity, that's a chasm. Sure, the Rockets thrive on 3-point shooting to make up some of that disparity, and the Rockets usually rely on shooting gobs of free throws. But the Rockets only shot one more free throw than the Grizzlies in the two games, an unusual ratio considering the Rockets have James Harden and Dwight Howard.
This is something that can be fixed. If Omer Asik ever returns, he will be a huge boost, of course. The starting lineup isn't getting destroyed inside, merely outplayed. The bench is another story, and it was a disaster against the Grizzlies. That's how Chandler Parsons can make 10 3-pointers in a half and the Rockets don't break 90 points.
There's still no signs of when, or if, Asik will return. Will the Rockets make a move at the trade deadline? If they do, Daryl Morey says it won't include Asik, which is a laughable about-face from his stance in December and likely just posturing for leverage.
If Asik somehow stays, who can the Rockets give up for a big, useful body? We've seen how the team struggles without Patrick Beverly and/or Jeremy Lin. Parsons is untouchable on his contract, and trading Terrence Jones for a big man would appear to be counterproductive. There can't be much of a market for Francisco Garcia or Ronnie Brewer. So where do the Rockets go for help?
The answer isn't clear quite yet, but it's becoming obvious that the Rockets must do something. If having the best two-way center in the NBA isn't good enough to win the paint, Morey must reassess parts of this roster for the Rockets to be true championship contenders.