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Deep Trouble, Deep Breath

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The irony. The pain. The annoyance.

Los Angeles Lakers v Houston Rockets - Game Four
Still not your problem.
Photo by Jim Poorten/NBAE via Getty Images

The Rockets have gone from a solid position in their second round series with the Los Angeles Lakers to deep trouble, losing three straight.

The game two loss was frustrating, as the Lakers had a (most likely) unrepeatable shooting night.

The game three loss was a shoulder shrug, as the Rockets played well, but LeBron James had a first half for the ages, and the Rockets wilted down the stretch.

The game four loss was a damned disaster.

There are of course contributing factors. The House Arrest situation, on which there has been no further clarity. The world is full of conspiracy theories at the moment, some with solid evidence, some a product of a particularly twisted sort of fantasy life. Then there’s the Strange Case of Danuel House.

I am not going to speak on the House Arrest Situation as there’s nothing I actually KNOW about it.

EDIT - We now know House Arrest is a permanent Bubble Exile. We may or may not like the NBA’s standard of proof, but this isn’t a criminal trial. The NBA produced an extensive manual on protocol in The Bubble, and also briefed the players and teams thoroughly. The NBA doesn’t have to produce criminal trial levels of evidence to make a ruling in this matter.

House did enough to convince the NBA that the evidence to eject him was clear, and that, sadly, is on Danuel House, a player I very much like.

If there’s something to wonder about, it’s how, exactly, this came to be known. Not that it excuses the behavior, it does not, but the cynic in me suspects House isn’t alone in doing this. Various sources say the same. How is it him, and no one else? That is where pointed questions should be directed. Don’t, however, expect satisfaction on that count. Transparency is something the NBA generally talks about more than evinces.

That said, why not compare House Arrest to an injury? Injuries happen in the playoffs, and usually at the worst possible time, if you’re a Rockets fan. Why the House Arrest situation wasn’t treated like that is unclear.

Whatever the case, the Rockets began a game four, that could have tied the series at two wins apiece, with a stunning lack of urgency and energy. That might be understandable for a team up 3-0 in a series, but down 2-1 it is untenable. The Rockets, playing Smallball or whatever you want to call it, must play with energy. It’s a requirement of the concept. There was no energy until five minutes remained and the Rockets were down big.

The Rockets must also shoot good shots when they appear. Passing up shots, even due to good Laker contesting of those shots, burns clock. The Lakers very much want the Rockets to burn precious seconds moving the ball around, slowing their pace. The Laker half-court offense cannot get into a horse race with the Rockets, the Rockets must, conversely take the game score up well above 100pts. This becomes virtually impossible if they don’t shoot early in the clock, and don’t shoot off basket attacks. (And for God’s sake, dunk, or try to, at least. Fouls are almost always called on dunk attempts, not so much on soft flip layups.)

One of the worst things that can happen to the Rockets is an offensive possession that runs down the shot clock, leads to a miss, and results in a Laker fast break. The Lakers are a decidedly average offense overall, but they’re devastating on the break.

For three solid games the Rockets have given the Lakers exactly the script they want. Credit much of this to Los Angeles, which has successfully slowed the action to their preferred pace. Some of it is on the Rockets though, and an unwillingness to adjust to opponents. The Laker defense is doing a good job on the ISO actions, which likely means a vulnerability to PNR. But the Rockets don’t really run much PNR anymore.

On the Rockets offense overall, I will only say, aggregate mathematical advantages that fail to appear over a playoff series, are not worth much if the goal is to win the playoff series.

Rockets fans, have, rightly in my opinion, based on the evidence of the first two rounds, been concerned that their team, designed to generate free throw attempts through drives at the basket, has been shooting far few free throws than their opponents through 11 contests. That was not the case last night. The Rockets shot roughly 2x their average 2020 playoff free throw attempts last game.

As for their opponents, it appears that the whistles are fairly clear. Anthony Davis, just as in the Portland series, is operating with a great deal of protection in the paint (and falling down). This isn’t new, it’s been consistently called that way for 9 Laker playoff games.

LeBron James gets to barrel over opponents, set, not set, nearby, far away, and shoot free throws after his layup. This isn’t new. It’s been consistently called that way for James’ entire career.

The point of that being, this is not a mystery. It is unlikely to change. The Rockets must adapt to it, and largely, again, haven’t. To be fair, there are few answers that are genuinely good for James, or Davis. So why not try to shut down the Laker roleplayers that have wrecked the Rockets for two straight games? The “just ignore” him strategy hasn’t worked for the (vile) Rajon Rondo and Aggie Legend Captain Combover Without The Combover But With The No Hair Headband Alex Caruso.

The Rocketsphere is abuzz with player recrimination, coaching change suggestions and whatnot. I suggest settling down. There will be plenty of time for recrimination and infighting later. For all its frustration, this has been the highest winning percentage period of Rockets history, with the second best player in Rockets history.

Poll

How now, angry cow?

This poll is closed

  • 14%
    Rockets in Seven
    (55 votes)
  • 60%
    Lakers in Five.
    (237 votes)
  • 10%
    Lakers in Six.
    (42 votes)
  • 1%
    Lakers in Seven.
    (4 votes)
  • 13%
    Mavs would have won in three.
    (53 votes)
391 votes total Vote Now