On Christmas Day, the Rockets beat the Spurs, the second best team in the West. To get the win, the Rockets played gutsy, and they executed the game plan on offense and defense to perfection.
24 hours later, against the second worst team in the West (the Pelicans), the defense that was great against the Spurs did not show up, but the Rockets still had a chance to win the game. Up nine points with just under eight minutes left in the game, the Pelicans went on a 16 to 5 run to close out the game and secure the win.
Via Clutchfans, in an interview with Root Sports, J.B. Bickerstaff shared his frustration. Let's just call it what it was, Bickerstaff called out his players Saturday night.
"Our priorities need to be clear," Bickerstaff said, "I need do a better job at playing the people whose priorities are clear."
The head coach did not mince words. He was disappointed with the lack of fight the team has shown all too often this season.
"We play San Antonio last night we play a wonderful game, we play a beautiful game on both sides of the ball," Bickerstaff said. "We come out here tonight, things aren't easy, things don't go our way, and we turn into the ugly Rockets again."
This season the Rockets have been a very frustrating team. Bickerstaff was here last season, so he knows exactly what this team is capable of. The Rockets have the talent and the skill to play with anybody in the NBA when they want to. It's simply a question of makeup.
The Rockets this season have won games against the Spurs, the Clippers, and the Thunder. But they have also been swept by the Nuggets and the Nets, and perhaps their worst loss of the season to date was to the Mavericks who were down three starters.
"We have to solve the core of our issue. There's a reason why this team is so up and down, there's a reason why when things are really good, things are good and when things are bad things they're bad," Bickerstaff said. "To a man, starting with me, we have to solve the issue. Our issue is doing things right because it's the right thing to do, not because its going to get me a bucket, not because its going to get me a shot not because I'm (going to) get the glory. That's not what this is about and that's what our problem is right now."
When the Rockets are humming along like a well-oiled machine, they play defense, run the floor, share the ball and they play the lanes.
When the Rockets are losing to the Nets, the Pelicans, and the Nuggets, they do not play defense until they absolutely have to and they settle for shots which are, most of the time, bad three point shots.
Going forward, we could see some changes if players don't get the message. Just as an example, last year when the Rockets made their run in Game Six against the Clippers, James Harden played 0 minutes in the fourth quarter. The bench, namely Josh Smith, came in and dominated, and Kevin McHale stuck with the lineup that was working and chose not to put his superstar in the game.
Going forward, Bickerstaff only wants to see players with one thing on their mind: winning.
"If they're not playing with that priority in mind then they're doing other things that's not important," Bickerstaff said. "Winning is the only priority that matters, that's the message that should be loud and clear."