It’s getting really hard to write about the Rockets and come up with constructive criticism.
On the one hand, they have now let two teams hold leads on them for the majority of the game. Both the Blazers and Pelicans led by double digits in the fourth quarter. In both games, an opposing point guard went off. Against the Pelicans, E’Twaun Moore turned into Solomon Hill and stayed hot for 48 minutes. I’m convinced that if the Pelicans had given the ball to Jrue Holiday and Moore late in the game rather than force-feeding Boogie, the Rockets would have lost by double digits.
For a team that has prided itself on a newfound commitment to defense, the Rockets haven’t defended particularly well for two games in a row. Sure, this is the NBA and teams get hot. Everyone loses a couple of games every year where you look back at the game and say “There’s literally nothing we could have done.” The talent in the league is the best it’s ever been and Houston would do well to remember that.
On the other hand, the Rockets won both games by clamping down in the fourth quarter on the defensive end and mauling their opponents on offense. James Harden has been an absolute animal and Chris Paul has been on one of the most efficient runs I’ve seen in awhile. Even when this is down, they don’t consider themselves out. As Harden stated after the Blazers game, the Rockets need some adversity. Well, it’s coming.
It would be easy to look at the schedule and see Friday’s matchup with the San Antonio Spurs in giant red letters. After all, the Spurs eliminated the Rockets from the postseason last year despite Houston winning Game 1 decisively and having multiple chances to steal Game 5 before melting down in overtime. Game 6 is going to be an entire chapter in the Harden retrospective film.
But first, the Rockets will have to take care of a Charlotte Hornets squad that just murdered the Oklahoma City Thunder in their own building. I know that beating OKC isn’t a big deal, but going on a 22-2 run to bust open a tie game in the second half is impressive no matter the opponent. Dwight Howard went 9-13 from the field and 5-7 from the line for 23 points. In fact, all five starters for Charlotte finished with double figures and Treveon Graham got in on the fun too off the bench with 12 points.
The Hornets feature two guards who can get their own shot in Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lamb. I find it really cool that these two guys played together at UConn and are now the starting backcourt together for an NBA franchise. They also have Marvin Williams hitting shots all over the place and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist takes on the role of “dude who will score a bunch of points on easy shots that piss you off” guy.
Cody Zeller is out for the Hornets and Nicolas Batum is doubtful with an elbow injury.
The Rockets can only play with fire for so long before it’s going to burn them. If they keep up this effort on defense, they are going to have games where they reach for their reserves in the fourth quarter and find their tank on empty.
Tip-off is at 8:30pm CT on ESPN