Tonight the Houston Rockets played the Los Angeles Clippers for the third time in 13 games, and lost for the third time. So playing the Rockets has been beneficial to the Clippers and not as good for the Rockets. Whatever schedule idea lead to the Rockets flying from Orlando to Toronto to New Orleans, and playing close to a quarter of the first roughly fifth of the season against a single team? I hate it.
Right now with the Rockets there are two stories under way. One is the story of the season itself, and the other is the story of the progress of player and team development.
Tonight a deep team of almost entirely veteran (5-10 years NBA experience) players beat a deep team of almost entirely players with less than 2-3 years of NBA experience. It wasn’t as easy as the scoreboard would suggest, but it wasn’t terribly hard either.
The Clippers took a lead fairly early, and though the Rockets would cut the lead to single digits or thereabouts several times, the Clippers would always shut the comeback attempt down with a perfectly timed made three point shot. The Rockets tended to let the game slip further away after these makes, in a welter of pressing offense into poor shot selection, defense mistakes. This pattern repeated several times, especially in the second half.
The Clippers are a better team than the Rockets at present. This is no surprise, a healthy version of the Clippers was considered at least a top four playoff team in the Western Conference at the start of the season. The Rockets are exactly the sort of team a group of, let’s say, canny, veterans can beat most of the time.
When the referees made a series of suspect calls late in the third and early fourth quarter, the Clippers knew just what to do - press the issue for more calls, by driving for contact, and falling down when near Rockets players. I have a feeling they suspected the Rockets would lose their cool, and the Rockets duly did so, entering the free throw bonus only 9 minutes into the fourth quarter. The early bonus meant the Rockets would lose basically their only advantages on defense - energy and aggression.
It was annoying but utterly unsurprising to see. This is the sort of lesson young players have to learn. There’s no way to learn it except to go through it. There was no steady hand to calm them on the court, as Eric Gordon himself keenly feels refereeing injustice.
That brings us to the other question - player and team development. When a player like Kevin Porter Jr is on tilt, committing unless fouls, bricking bad shots, and basically regressing into a worse version of himself, what is to be done? One school of thought is let him play through it, as on reviewing video it will be obvious what happened. Another school is to sit him when he’s making bad decisions. and taking too many shots.
The same happened with a frustrated Alperen Sengun. When he was playing within himself, he could clown Ivica Zubac with slick moves. When the Rockets true collapse came in the early 4th quarter, he played a big part, racking up three fouls in about three minutes.
Both Porter and Sengun are passionate players, who won’t stop trying to win. When they become their own worst enemy, though, it’s the job of coaches to help them through it.
Jalen Green is turning into an absolute bucket, from every level, with all sorts of shots. It’s kind of a shame the Rockets simply rely on him beating the defense to make this happen. Early in the game he and Sengun did display some excellent chemistry in a two man game, though. The more the Rockets feature this, the better.
In the meantime, the whole team is stuck with a problem, the problem being who gets minutes, and how does any team develop literally ten players 23 and under at the same time, and play anything resembling coherent and attractive basketball? Sometimes it feels impossible, and tonight was one of those nights.
Can it be done?
This poll is closed
Yes, but slowly.
How can losing be hubris?