Perhaps the most disconcerting theme of all in the Western Conference semifinals thus far has been the Rockets attitude.
Let me pause here and say that I am not a psychologist, nor do I have insider information as to Rockets' mental status as a team or individually.
But, to resume, anyone who's watched the first three games of this series is seeing the same thing. The Rockets aren't playing hard.
Jason Terry is throwing every ounce of 37-year-old energy he has into these games. He's played like someone who has won a ring and been in countless wars, because he has. Dwight Howard continues to play his absolute best, even against the best defensive center in the NBA. Watching him battle DeAndre Jordan and come out largely ahead (Jordan can't score on Dwight, Dwight's scored plenty on Jordan) has been one of the few highlights of this series.
James Harden, Trevor Ariza, Josh Smith, Terrence Jones and Corey Brewer, the rest of the Rockets' top 7, are a different story. This group of five players haven't seized on this moment at all. Ariza was a key contributor on the 2009 Lakers championship team. Brewer was in the locker room for the 2011 Mavericks. Harden played in the 2012 NBA Finals. Smith has been to the conference semifinals more than anyone else on this team.
This group has run out of excuses.
Ariza has played great defense, but there are two parts of a basketball game. We can't continue to give him a pass for being a bad offensive player. No one did the same for Harden last year, just like we're not doing it now. The starting small forward -- and second-leading player in minutes -- needs to become a positive offense player. He needs to make contributions.
So far, he's shooting 23.1 percent from three-point land in the playoffs. Even for his mediocre standard set this year, it's an abominable number. On top of that, he's five threes a game. They are coming when he's not open enough, and there is plenty of time on the shot clock. He has single-handedly cost the Rockets at least six points a game on offense because of his abominable shot selection.
Josh Smith's offensive brilliance in the Mavericks series overshadowed his ineptitude on defense. This series, as he's missed shot after shot, committed turnover after turnover, including some inexcusable offensive fouls, those defensive shortcomings are becoming even more acute. He is now a complete drain on the team whenever he's out there, forcing more minutes for the already-overwhelmed Terrence Jones.
Brewer has been energetic in spurts, but he's making worse decisions than he did at any point in the season. He's serving as an instigator, yes, but he's not actually provoking the Rockets to play any harder.
We've covered James Harden, and it won't do him or me any better to go on about this. He knows that he has been playing far below his immense capabilities. It's time for him to step up.
If the Rockets can steal this game, and make the series 2-2, they have the upper hand. Then, it's first to two wins, and two of those games will be in Houston. This series is very, very far from over, but it will be over fast if things don't change.