The Houston Rockets' 128-121 defeat at the hand of the Milwaukee Bucks defined everything about this season that's gone awry. Almost an exact, by-the-list, rundown of all the Rockets' ugly blemishes that have brought them to this under .500 point (29-31) as we roll into March.
We highlighted just earlier today the Rocket's plight in the first quarter. After falling behind 32-26 to close out the first period in Milwaukee, the Rockets reached their 10th consecutive game of not ending the first period with a lead and their 11th out of their last 13th. They are 4-9 in that time frame. The deficit quickly turned to 15, and although Houston did battle back and even take the lead in the 3rd period, the energy expanded left nothing for the stretch run when this game was decided.
The Bucks went on a 13-1 run starting with 4:30 left in the 4th and the game knotted up, and though they let the Rockets claw back during the last 2 minutes, that final, decisive run is what ultimately put Houston away. They just didn't have it in the fourth, and yet another early deficit is partially to blame.
Defense (or lack thereof)
Another, and perhaps the most glaring, issue all season long has been defense, with the Rockets giving up 107.1 points per game on the year, which is 27th in the NBA. And they let the Bucks do whatever they pleased tonight.
The Bucks poured in 128 points, shot 59.3 percent from the field, 53.3 percent from deep, and scored 60 points in the paint. They had two 30-point scorers with 36 from Jabari Parker and 30 from Khris Middleton, and Giannis Antetokounmpo racked up an 18-17-11 triple dip (and also snagged 4 steals and swatted 2 shots) in what was a true offensive cornucopia against the porous Houston defense.
All too often the Bucks scored inside with ease, and their 17 fast break points showed they were effective on the run as well. There was nothing that they did that Rockets had an answer for defensively.
The Rockets 16.2 turnovers per game is fourth-worst in the NBA, and it was a problem again tonight, as they coughed up the ball 16 times. As usual, James Harden was the turnover leader with 4, but Patrick Beverley lost it 3 times, and there were 2 turnovers each for Dwight Howard, Donatas Motiejunas, and Jason Terry.
The Rockets cannot to expect to win consistently as long as they are turning the ball over this consistently.
Little help from the bench
We covered this issue earlier today as well, and it was of little surprise that it was a problem again tonight. The Houston bench gave them very little and were once again outplayed by the opposition.
Terry did have 12 points on 4 threes, including a buzzer-beater to close out the first half to bring the Rockets within one point at 65-64, but Houston got next to nothing from any of the other reserves.
Motiejunas finished with 6 points, 5 rebounds, and this sweet assist::
And though he may have looked as spry as he has at any point this season, it didn't show up in the final score and barely registered in the box.
Terrence Jones pitched in just 4 off the bench, and Corey Brewer and Ty Lawson were both scoreless in 19 combined minutes of action to round out the barren wasteland on the pine.
Harden, Howard, and Ariza and not much else
JET mentioned to ESPN last week that Dwight, Harden, and Ariza show up almost every night; that's rarely been a problem. It's getting everyone else to show up simultaneously that's caused the Rockets issues, and once again, it was no different.
The trio combined for 76 of the Rockets' 121 points, 27 of Houston's 41 rebounds, 20 of their 30 assists, and shot a combined 26-44 while the rest of the squad shot just 15-43.
The ancillary pieces in Houston just haven't performed up to snuff, and have not only combined with the other reasons listed here to end up losing in Milwaukee, but to also have the Rockets on verge of missing the playoffs altogether.
The Rockets are just a half game ahead of the Jazz for the final playoff spot in the West, and amazingly, they only hold a 3.5 game lead on the lowly Sacramento Kings.
Yes, Houston, it's gotten that bad.