So far this season the (1-3) Houston Rockets have played four games that have each looked completely different than the others, and Tuesday night’s 116-106 loss against (2-1) Dallas was perhaps the strangest.
In the season-opening battle against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Houston got steamrolled. In their second game of the year, they battled an Oklahoma City Thunder team that is far more dedicated to the tank than they are, and the Rockets were able to have their way.
Then against the Boston Celtics, the Rockets came close at times and showed a lot of grit, but it never felt like they’d actually come away with the victory and were only really in the game because of Jalen Green’s barrage of buckets that left him with 30 points on 8-10 shooting from three.
In their latest outing, the game against the Dallas Mavericks, it felt as if a winnable one for Houston once it tipped off, but it also never really felt as if Houston would win.
Houston played with great energy and looked confident, but the countless open threes that Dallas was able to attempt were breaking down the Rockets, not to mention the way Luka Doncic was able to smother any potential game-changing run by seemingly stopping time with the way he’s able to slow the game down.
Ultimately, it was just another night of the rebuild, and since this game had moments that were either bright or gloomy, it’s only fitting that we break it down accordingly.
Here is the good, the bad, and the ugly from Houston’s 116-106 loss to the Mavericks.
It became very evident, very quickly, that Houston was going to be competitive in the game, and it was clear through their effort and activity once running onto the hardwood. Many things can lead to a victory, whether it be a player getting hot, the rotational guys shooting lights out, or even just playing with intensity - but none of those matter if you start the game lackadaisical and just going through the motions.
The reason why the season opener got so ugly so fast was because the Timberwolves just wanted it more, and while that’s a cliche, their energy, passion, and effort were all key indicators in that vague but telling statement. We haven’t seen them sleepwalk from the opening tipoff since that game, which is vital because there isn’t ever an excuse for not wanting “it” bad enough.
Speaking of energy, two guys were out there moving with an extra bounce in their step, and it was Eric Gordon and Christian Wood.
Now while Gordon is essentially just auditioning for championship contenders at this point, his 22 points on 7-11 shooting helped the Rockets keep the game manageable, and he should’ve probably played more than the 27 minutes he used to drill 3-5 three-pointers. This is not only good for his trade stock but it also helps the rest of the Rockets because if he can become a rock for the young talent to lean on, it helps take a ton of pressure off their shoulders.
Meanwhile, Wood finished with 16 points and 17 rebounds against a Jason Kidd-led team that is infatuated with having two big men on the floor at the same time. He shot 6-16 from the field and helped stretch the floor by going 2-6 from beyond the arc in his 37 minutes of action.
Just like against the Celtics, there were times when Houston needed a player to act as a spark plug but never got it, and when you take into account that this is a team with nothing to lose, it’s puzzling that neither Armoni Brooks, Josh Christopher, and Usman Garuba ever got an opportunity to try and ramp up the pace.
Sure, KJ Martin Jr. finally saw action, but five minutes of playing time weren’t enough for him to make an impact, especially when those minutes came with guys whose on-floor activity wasn’t up to par and was only declining at that point.
Why not throw more young guys out there and see what kind of boost they can provide? The worst that could happen is a loss, and well... that’s kind of feels bound to happen anyway, right?
For starters, Danuel House Jr. suffered a foot sprain and not only missed the remainder of the game but also returned to the bench wearing a walking boot. He only played 9 minutes and was off to a hot start by adding 8 points and 4 rebounds while hitting 2-3 of his shots from three-point land and 3-4 overall.
The Rockets cannot afford to catch the injury bug again this year, and with House residing on the bench with a boot, it’ll lessen the depth of a team filled with younger players that are bound to receive a couple of bumps and bruises.
House’s performance helped substantially because there were some struggles on the offensive end of the floor, and one of those guys who saw his fair share was Jae’Sean Tate.
It’s hard to criticize Tate, because he’s the guy in the starting five that Houston wants guarding the opposing team’s best perimeter scorer, but he went 3-9 from the field and scored 6 points, which obviously needs to be tightened up.
There were also struggles from Kevin Porter Jr., who although looked more comfortable, turned the ball over 6 times and only shot 4-10 from the field for 13 points. Through the struggles, he had 8 assists, which now has me wondering if he even belongs in the “ugly” section.
Lastly, I know he’s young, a rookie, and it’s only his fourth game - but Jalen Green shot 4-16 from the field while scoring 10 points and severely lacked the same conviction he had against Boston. The Rockets have to figure out how to put their second-round pick in easy scoring positions so that he’s able to see a couple of shots fall and get a feel for the game, because if not, there will be a bunch of nights like these where it feels like he has to either forcefully get to the rim or settle for standstill three-pointers.
Things need to be made more simple by the coaching staff, and he has to not only show more off-ball movement but also continue to play above the rim and make defenders hesitate when deciding if they want to contest the attempt.
I feel like there isn’t a whole lot to take away from this game besides the fact that Houston needs a guy that they can lean on to get those tough buckets when the game begins to tighten up down the stretch, but considering the current state of things, that isn’t necessarily important.
The next two games are against Western Conference mammoths in the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Lakers, and it’ll be interesting to see what type of attitude the Rockets play with and if they have a guy that can play special enough to potentially win them the game down the stretch.