What a difference a year makes.
A year and a new coach, and some very sound free agent signings. Last year we’d have been happy(ish) to lose by only one point to the Los Angeles Lakers on a night that saw soon-to-be 39 year old Lebron James score 37 points (14-19) grab 6 rebounds, dish 8 assists and notch 3 steals in 40 minutes of basketball. (I’m sure he’ll go back to his 28 minute per game limit soon.)
Last year the Rockets would have been lucky to have been within 20 points of the Lakers on such a night. This year? We’re annoyed. (At least I am, and I’ll force-team you into being annoyed, too.)
Annoyed that the Rockets made so many mistakes, turning the ball over 18 times. Irritated the Rockets fouled 25 times for 29 Laker free throws, largely because they made mistakes on defense (unlike the Clipper game, where fouls were called for playing defense, or being near Clipper players, or simply being a Rocket). Tonight the Rockets were forced to foul from bad gambles and blown coverages.
Vexed that Jalen Green remains maddeningly inconsistent, when the Rockets only need him to be consistently slightly above average for his position.
Dumb(and dumber) founded that Austin Reeves was able to make a 58 foot (approx) heave late, despite his coiffure homage to Jim Carrey’s iconic, and moronic, role as “Lloyd” in “Dumb and Dumber”. I guess people in LA just want to look like movie stars.
Mostly we might be perturbed by the idea that the Rockets could have, and should have, won this game. Now that we have re-acquired a taste for winning, something the Rockets tend to do, historically at least, it’s difficult to go back to the cold comfort of moral victories.
Tonight did see something very positive happening for the Rockets. If you’ve taken a few quite forgivable years off from paying attention to the Superfund Site that has been the Rockets, you might think it’s happening overnight. If you were among the faithful, the disciples of 2021-22, you’ve been on this journey since Vegas Summer League. I refer to the the emergence of Alperen Sengun - nascent NBA star, under the bright lights of Lakerland and against King James and Day-to-Davis (who is a very fine player on his day). I’m not a fan of single game =/- but Alperen Sengun being +21 in a 1 point game, where no other starter was more than +5 is something to think about.
Alpie went for 23pts 10 rebound and 5 assists, on 11-16 shooting and 1-2 from 3pt range. If you’ve been walking along the Alps before now, you know that’s far from the most he can do.
He didn’t do it alone. Dillon Brooks had a night from 3pt range, making 6-11, and thieving 4 steals. His other shooting was painful, and often ill-advised at 3-11.
Fred VanVleet offered still more proof that Point Guard Isn’t Dead, Ya’ll, scoring 15 on 5-14 shooting, which needs to improve, but also diming 16 assists to 3 TOs.
Jabari scored 14 on 5-10 shooting, 2-6 from three, with 5 boards and a really good effort on defense. Some might be critical of him, but I’d say that what I’m seeing that when he plays within the confines of what he’s good at, plays within himself if you will, seems almost perfect. When he doesn’t, he seems slightly hopeless.
Jalen Green had a tough night, tentative, and mistake prone. But he’s still grabbing rebounds and playing defense. The Rockets only need him to be decent, but they REALLY need him to be decent. I think, or at least hope, when I watch him I see the beginnings of a very effective NBA player, rather than a very gifted NBA athlete.
It’s going to take time, but he was allowed to do what he wanted for two years, and what he wanted was to wander around and eat the NBA equivalent of three Jack-In-The-Box “Big Boxes” at 4AM every night. While Jalen’s got more of an NBA body, his NBA mind is having to play catch up fast, on a team that’s trying to win. I remain positive, and think all the teaching, all the work he’s legitimately putting in, will start to come together. In January or February. Sorry.
Meanwhile the Rockets need Jalen, or someone, anyone, besides Alpie, to score because the bench scoring is atrocious. If Uncle Jeff Green is your best bench scorer, something has gone wrong. Ime is making a lot of good decisions, but the decision to just make Tari Eason a rebounder and defender isn’t optimal. Tari’s the only option to open up more scoring of bench players currently being used, but from what I can tell nothing is run for him at all.
At this point the bench scoring is so terrible it’s hard to understand why we don’t see a few minutes of Cam Whitmore, just to find out if he can just bulldoze some points for the bench unit. Aaron Holiday has looked better than pre-season, but he looks like a good 3rd PG when he looks good.
Jock Landale was simply unplayable against the big Laker team tonight, and that’s a problem, because 37 year old Jeff Green should be used as a Swiss Army Big, not Primary Backup Big. Landale’s continued ineffectiveness, even in small doses, is a growing concern.
When we’re thinking about all this, though, the thing to remember is the Rockets, since about the third game of the season, aren’t letting ANYBODY score much. Including themselves. Consider, though, 37 points from Lebron and 27 for Davis along with other Laker efforts (no double digit scoring for any other starters) lead to a less than robust 105 points.
The Rockets probably can’t defend too much better. A decent NBA team really should win pretty much every game they hold the opposition to 105, and right now, the Rockets aren’t. My admiration for what Udoka has wrought with defense, chemistry, and sheer effort knows few bounds. The Rockets simply have to find a way to score more, to score like an average NBA team (114). Right now it feels Thibodeauesque.
Tough road loss, a team that’s serious about the season needs to win a few of these. How serious are the Rockets? It remains to be seen.
The Rockets play again at Golden State tomorrow. Let’s home for an offensive outburst from the Rockets.
Sentimentometer California Edition
Sunny and 80