Last night in Los Angeles, The John Wall-less Houston Rockets fell 126-109 to the Paul George-less L.A Clippers. Despite the loss, the young core still flashed signs of their potential.
At this point in the season, it’s become clear that while winning is great, losing helps this team more in the long run. But that has not stopped the Rockets from putting up a fight. At the end of the day, the Rockets are not a very good basketball team, but they have heart, and with heart comes pride, so while they may be losing games right now, it certainly is not on purpose.
The Rockets have so much heart that they held a 10-point lead to end the opening quarter and looked poised enough to pull off an upset... until L.A smothered Houston with a 41-6 run to put them in a comfortable position throughout the rest of the night.
Yet even after a horrid second quarter, the Rockets continued to fight and even found themselves in striking distance, trailing 102-96 with 7:33 left in the game. Then the Rockets got it to as close as a five-point deficit before Kawhi Leonard had seen enough and his squad went on a 16-2 run, with Leonard scoring 8 of those points and bringing his total to a game-high 31 points. The Clippers also got a big contribution from Reggie Jackson who shot 10-14.
In a game where two big runs crushed the Rockets, there are still plenty of positive takeaways, and the biggest one might be Kevin Porter Jr., who is rapidly becoming a fan favorite. Despite a rough shooting night (4-13), KPJ’s impact was felt, as he scored 14 points and dished out 13 assists. He has continued to show his development as not only a scorer, but a playmaker, and he is now averaging 15.4 points a night to go along with 6.3 assets and 3.8 rebounds.
Also giving a big contribution to Houston was Christian Wood, scoring 23 points on 9-15 shooting. Throughout the season, Wood gradually has looked more comfortable as the go-to guy and now finds himself averaging 21.0 points and 9.3 boards per game. Also looking more comfortable is Jae-Sean Tate, who pitched in 18 points and is showing that he’s more than just a defender.
Right now, there is something special brewing in Houston, and while it may not lead to championship aspirations for a while, it’s still evident. Wood, KPJ, and Tate are all developing at a rapid pace and have renovated the ceilings of their potential to rise higher.
With Tate’s improvement, it is starting to look like he could be the guy that is tasked with shutting down the opposing team’s best perimeter player and has already shown flashes this year of that while also having nights where he’s been an option as a scorer.
Meanwhile, Porter Jr. is starting to look like he could be a superstar in this league if he continues to improve his offensive versatility and efficiency, because his ability to create space and get his shot at his speed is a key trait amongst the elite scorers in the sport. It’s all about polishing his tools.
Lastly, Wood is quickly rising as one of the better bigs in the league, and it’s only a matter of time before he leaps into a tier where the elites reside. With the skillset he has, all he has to do is add more bulk to his frame and the sky will be the limit for him.
While it’s unclear how long it may take for the Rockets to once again roam the top of the Western Conference standings, it’s fair to assume that landing a top-four pick in the draft will speed things up swiftly. There is a youth movement in Houston and it’s beginning to pick up traction
The Rockets will have another shot to pick up a win tonight, this time against the Golden State Warriors at 9 pm CT on AT&T SportsNet Southwest.