The Houston Rockets played what was likely their worst game of the year, going into New Orleans and losing 111-83.
James Harden scored just 11 points and his stellar defense so far this year deserted him. Dwight Howard had 12 points and 5 rebounds in just 21 minutes, and he looked absolutely lost on both ends of the floor. The rest of the starting lineup was even worse, somehow.
The first half was one of the worst Rockets halves of the year. The team shot 36 percent from the field and allowed the Pelicans to shoot 57 percent, and 50 percent from deep. Ryan Anderson, Luke Babbit and Jimmer Fredette -- three of the best three-point snipers in the league -- each had at least one wide open attempt from three. The defense was abysmal, the offense was no better.
Everything was terrible.
They were no better in the second half. The starters came in down 17 points and promptly fell behind by 22. After four minutes or so, Kevin McHale pulled the lot of them, inserting Jason Terry, Corey Brewer, Kostas Papanikolaou, Donatas Motiejunas and Joey Dorsey. I'd like to tell you this ragtag bunch just hustled and scraped their way back into the game. I'd like to tell you they rallied together as a team to prove they deserve more playing time. I'd love to tell you that.
I can't. It only got worse.
Big Papa got his first playing time since Josh Smith came to town. He made a few nice passes and hit a three, but he was generally underwhelming and looked hesitant around the basket. Isaiah Canaan came in when the Rockets were down 29 in the fourth quarter and quickly turned the ball over.
Everything was terrible.
Anthony Davis scored 7 points, grabbed 8 rebounds and was largely quiet all night. This didn't seem to happen because of any great defensive effort -- although Smith was OK -- but mostly because everyone else on the Pelicans was getting open shots. Tyreke Evans scored 21 points, mostly on unfettered drives to the rim. Anderson poured in 22 points with clean looks at the basket from deep.
If all this sounds bad, watching it was worse.
Josh Smith is officially a concern. He's shooting terribly, which isn't a surprise, but he isn't doing the little things to make up for it. He isn't driving, he isn't playing good defense and he only rarely makes good passes. He's a net negative.
The biggest concern at this point might be the system. I understand the Moreyball way, I do. But the personnel is just not there. Trevor Ariza is only an efficient shooter from the corner, and like Chandler Parsons before him, McHale's offense doesn't set up the small forward in the corner, that's Patrick Beverley/Jason Terry's area. So Ariza continues to shoot from spots on the floor where he's uncomfortable. The result: he's under 30 percent shooting from deep if you don't count his first six games. He scored just 2 points tonight.
The Rockets shot 6-29 as a team from deep. Corey Brewer, a career 29 percent deep shooter, missed all five of his three-point attempts. Not a single person on the team hit more than one shot from behind the arc.
Isn't this a coaching issue? Once the team shoots 3-20 from the three-point line and the team is down 30 points, doesn't the head coach have to say "enough, let's try something new?" One of the big mantras of the statistical basketball revolution is "trust the process." Meaning, the results may not mean that the hypothesis was wrong. In the long run, it's beneficial to shoot more threes, despite short-term failings.
Honestly, at this point, fuck that. We have 30 games of data that tells us this is a bad offensive team. The Rockets are in the bottom half of the league in scoring, and considering all they shoot is layups, three-pointers and free throws, that's unacceptable.
It's too early to fully panic. The Rockets are still comfortably in the playoffs, and they have oodles of talent. But there wasn't a single guy on the court wearing red tonight playing winning basketball. The Rockets have lost five of their last eight.
They play tomorrow night in Houston against the Heat. Goody.