This week is terrible.
The Rockets started it by scoring 69 points against the Durant- and Westbrook-less Thunder on Sunday. Then they got shat on by the Grizzlies. And now, last night. Dwight Howard didn't play, but the Rockets led the entire second half before an inexcusable collapse in the last minute.
More distressing than the losses is the Rockets' now unimpressive body of work: losses to the Warriors and Lakers without Howard and a spanking by the Grizzlies look worse when you consider that their best wins were against a Heat team struggling for a post-LeBron identity and a Spurs team without Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tiago Splitter and Marco Bellinelli.
So is 9-3 a mirage? We're bound to hear that argument made before our next game against the Mavericks on Sunday, which will no doubt be viewed by many -- stupidly, I should add -- as a "must-win" affair. "Did we all overrate the Rockets?" people will ask.
The Rockets have yet to be healthy and fully integrated. Terrence Jones' continued absence is getting increasingly concerning; Bill Worrell said on the broadcast on Monday that Jones could miss another month, although no one has confirmed that. For all his problems, especially defensively, Jones is a terrific rebounder and has one of the strongest motors in the league. He's an above-average player, if not a starting 4, and the Rockets miss him.
He's got a nerve issue. This could be something that bothers him even when he comes back, whenever that is.
No one knows what the heck happened to Dwight last night. He was in the starting lineup, then took himself out of it -- Morey said it was his decision, not the team's, in an interview with ESPN during the game -- with a "strained knee." If he really has a strained knee, he needs to rest it. But the way it went down raises all sorts of questions.
When healthy, there are no questions. Howard has again been a dominant force: before last night, the Rockets were giving up 10.6 more points per 100 possessions when he wasn't playing, according to NBA.com.
He's grabbing 19.3 percent of available rebounds, which isn't a spectacular number, but when you consider the Rockets are launching threes at a historic pace, you have to remember how many of the available rebounds ricochet far away from his grasp. He's not getting beaten for contested rebounds, you can see that watching the game and the numbers bear it out: he's tied for second in contested rebounds per game, according to NBA.com's player tracking database.
James Harden has also been terrific. He's putting up a 24-7-6 line and he still hasn't found his shooting rhythm. But we knew that already. He's also playing severely improved defense, you can see from watching the games. He had back-to-back possessions last night where he locked down Carlos Boozer in the post, then got back in transition and forced a Laker into a missed shot (I believe it was Swaggy P but I can't be sure).
Kostas Papanikolaou, Trevor Ariza, Patrick Beverley -- these are legitimate NBA rotation pieces. Isaiah Canaan shouldn't be buried at the end of the bench like he was against the Lakers, especially with Jason Terry struggling. Who knows what Kevin McHale thinks of Troy Daniels, but he's looked lost in all his regular season minutes.
Speaking of McHale, he's not going anywhere this year. I don't think he's as harmful as some of our commenters do, and I don't think Morey does either. He was a reason Howard signed here, the guys play hard for him, and that's enough to keep him in town through the end of his contract. I do wish I could have a long chat with him about his play-calling and minutes distribution, though.
The Rockets also have an X-Factor that Rockets fans may see sooner rather than later: the Jeremy Lin trade exception. That's an $8.32 million bullet in Daryl Morey's chamber. After the Rockets' performance in the last two games, the idea of using it on Corey Brewer is simply inexcusable.
The Rockets need another big man. They need to get rid of Joey Dorsey. Gorilla Dunks has been fun to have around as a writer, but his nine minutes were ludicrously abysmal. He whiffed on a number of rebounds, was thoroughly dominated by Ed Davis and missed all three shots he took.
I don't know who on the market fits with the Rockets (note: do not mention Omer Asik. Morey took a gamble on Chris Bosh and it didn't pay off. We're moving on because he has to). Al Horford and Paul Millsap are way too expensive. Who knows what Utah wants to do with its glut of big guys. I don't think the Lakers are willing to part with Ed Davis, although I was salivating a little over the thought of him backing up Dwight as he throttled Dorsey.
Morey's going to do something. He's not going to sit on such a powerful trade chip, and he can't sit on this roster. The Rockets are not complete as currently constructed, and we always knew the bench was going to be an issue.
There are plenty of reasons to be concerned over the last four games. But there are far, far more reasons to take a deep breath and realize the Rockets will be just fine this year.