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Houston Rockets vs. Atlanta Hawks game preview

Houston Rockets v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Expectations get people fired.

There’s a reason every coach of a contender downplays expectations during training camp. Even when the Golden State Warriors were unbeatable, Steve Kerr would deliver coach speak about “trying to get better every day” or “playing one game at a time.”

When you fail to live up to expectations, there has to be a scapegoat. Sometimes, it’s something like injuries (Clippers) or youth (every team fighting for a top 5 pick). But most of the time, the blame falls on the shoulders of a player or coach.

Coach is easiest. They make less money than the players and fans don’t have emotional connections to coaches. They’re just some human in a suit or polo who always makes bad lineup decisions or gets outcoached. It’s rarer that it’s a player. Houston tried to make Chris Paul the scapegoat in 2019. That decision has backfired. One year later, you could toss a rock and hit a scapegoat.

I say this because Houston underachieved this season. I’ve been vocal about wanting the Rockets to tank and try to get a guaranteed top 5 pick (and with a loss today, they will assure themselves of that outcome). However, on paper, the Rockets are not even close to having the worst collection of talent in the league. If you took the Rockets, Orlando Magic, and Detroit Pistons and made them into one team, Eric Gordon and Christian Wood would be the two best players on that squad. That talent alone should have won Houston 30 games, injuries be damned. For the second year in a row, Houston will be picking high in the lottery.

So who gets blamed? Is it injuries? Youth? A front office decision to tank? Is there a specific player to blame?

Or is Stephen Silas about to enter his third season with a bad team that looks nothing like the team he wanted to coach? And is he going to fall on the sword if Houston doesn’t reach the playoffs next year? The “new coach, new era” narrative is going to look awfully tempting in 2023-24.

To bring it all back to the game at hand, the Atlanta Hawks reached the Eastern Conference Finals last year. Now they’re in the play-in and even with a win tonight may have to win twice to get into the playoffs. Who’s taking the blame there? We’ll have to wait to find out.

Tip-off is at 2:30pm CT on AT&T SportsNet Southwest

Thank you everyone for reading along with the previews all year. I know that it’s tough to care about/follow a team that isn’t winning, but it’s been fun watching the young players grow while also positioning ourselves for another talented young player or two. If you are reading this, please know that I truly appreciate your time and your comments.