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Rockets flub their lines in L.A., lose 107-97

Road Woes Are Us

Houston Rockets v Los Angeles Lakers
Not A Foul
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

This was probably the worst loss of the season for the Rockets, a team that still, more than 20% into the NBA season, has not won a game away from Houston. The other losses on the road had generally been competitive, or at least explicable. For instance, in the last game the Rockets lost to Denver. Denver, however, had just gotten Murray back, and shot incredibly well, both on good shots and terrible ones alike. The Rockets shot well in that game too, but not quite well enough, and so the back-to-back road game in Denver was lost.

Aside from the season opening loss to what now appears to be quite a good Orlando team (it only took ten years!) the Rockets road losses have been close, hard-fought affairs. It is relatively easy to overlook the lack of actual victories when famous player teams in real need of wins manage last second shots (and an astonishing free throw disparity).

Tonight wasn’t any of that. The Rockets started brightly, making lots of shots from all ranges, and generally doing a good job defending. Early on, it felt like perhaps tonight the Rockets would get in the win column on the road. But for all their good play, they never managed to put any real distance between themselves and the Lakers in the first frame. The quarter ended with the Rockets up 5pts, 30-25. If the Rockets could have kept scoring 30 per quarter, all would have been well.

This emphatically did not happen. The Lakers cranked up their defensive pressure, and the lack of any quality center besides Sengun told against a very big Laker team. The fact that Jock Landale only plays in garbage time right now is a problem, because while Jeff Green can hold down “center” against teams that don’t have dominant big men, he can’t do it against Lebron and Anthony Davis, who moreover decided to really try hard tonight.

In the second quarter, with Sengun leaving after playing the whole first quarter, the Rockets offense, and defense, simply collapsed. The Rockets throughout the game held up relatively well against the Lakers in the half court, but in transition they did poorly. The Lakers found their spirit, and their confidence. When things started going poorly for the Rockets at every level, offense, defense, and officiating, they reverted to being more like the team of last year. They were on tilt from the second quarter onwards, and it looked a lot more like the Silas Rockets, than the Udoka Rockets.

That is, the Rockets rushed shots, didn’t run much offense, made poor decisions on offense, and didn’t help or coordinate on defense. Rather than settling in for a fight on defense, and letting that lead to offense, they played a lot of hero ball. Technicals were called, tempers flared, and eventually Ime Udoka would be ejected for a first technical foul arguing a double standard on allowed defensive physicality, and on a second tech, for arguing with Assistant NBA Commissioner Lebron James.

In any case the second quarter was just a rout, and marked the downfall of the Rockets this game, with the Lakers winning it 35-14.

The Rockets came back stronger in the second half, and several times brought the Laker lead down to a manageable 8-10 points, but each time did something silly. They gave up offensive rebounds on free throws, turned the ball over, dribbled into a Laker defense absolutely camped in the paint, or missed bunny shots out of perhaps a fear of the effortful Anthony Davis. Every time the Rockets pulled close, the Lakers pulled away. Despite the Rockets actually winning both the third and fourth quarters, the game never really seemed in doubt.

There weren’t a lot of bright spots on the Rockets.

Sengun scored 21pts, but on 8-25 shooting (13rbs, 5ast, 2stl, 2blk, 0 TO). Most of those were missed bunny shots, and then missed put back attempts, it wasn’t exactly a deliberate gunning for 25 shots. At one point in the fourth quarter, trying to come back the Rockets had 3 shots on 3 possession at very close range all roll around the rim and out, while the Lakers had 2 roll in, from worse shooting position. It was that sort of night.

Jalen Green shot poorly at 4-15, and managed to compound that by turning the ball over 6(!) times, to 2 assists. Most of the turnovers were just careless, or a foolish attack into traffic, with no real plan, like last season. He did grab 7 boards, which is one thing he’s doing well lately.

Green really needs to add some sort of close in shot like a floater, running hook, or stop and pop, something to keep the defense from zeroing in on him at the rim. If he can stop, or just make defenders think about other shots, besides a layup on dunk attempt at the rim, he’ll get more space.

Green shoots the ball very late in his run at the rim, so real contact often appears to be a shot commenced against set defenders, rather than defenders fouling him on an attempt begun earlier. This results in few foul calls, even though in many cases, he’s been fouled, and had his arm or body hit. It just doesn’t look like a typical foul, and it’s not called. If Jalen was already in his shooting motion when the contact happened, he’d probably get the call. If he’s not going to add a floater or something, he needs to go for dunks more, or get into defenders bodies earlier in the drive, and put the shot up on contact, and force the foul call.

Jabari Smith had a decent enough game, filling the stat sheet, but collecting fouls that he should have probably let go. He went 4-7 for 10pts, with 9rbs, 3ast, 2STL, 3blk, but 5 fouls, as he tried to stop both James and Davis on many occasions. Jabari has some right to feel frustrated, because despite playing well for several games, he’s being overlooked when he’s either open, or in good position for a catch and shoot. I watched VanVleet miss an open Jabari in favor of clanks from Green and Brooks on two consecutive possessions late. He’s become a more reliable shooter lately than Green or Brooks, and should be treated that way. He managed to turn the ball over 3 times tonight be trying, like the rest of the team, to get the lead back all at once. That said, I’m less concerned about Jabari than ever. He needs more set ups on offense at this point, so he’ll engage in fewer weird forays of his own. He did have a nice poke steal and breakaway off Lebron James, which was fun.

Fred VanVleet’s numbers look good, but his game looked bad. Hopefully the somewhat improved shooting (7-15, 4-7 3pt) will mesh with his great assist game at some point. Tonight was the first night he really looked a bit too small, and it was tough to watch at time. VanVleets minutes have been high, and often he’s in at the same time as Holiday. Will this hold up when the Rockets play 5 games in 7 nights?

In other quick looks, Aaron Holiday continues to look like a decent backup point. Unfortunately, he’s not a big point either. Amen needs to return someday soon, and start learning. He might be playing well enough to let VanVleet rest a big more.

Jeff Green at 37 and 6’8” is not the backup center the Rockets need. Jock Landale being unplayable is an utter disaster. The hope was he’d be a tough, chunky, center with a broad game who could hold down the minutes Alpie sits. Yes, Alpie offensively and defensive is now that important. Failing him doing that, the Rockets need a big (7ft+) athletic center to protect the rim, clean the glass and get lobs on a PNR.

Cam Whitmore played garbage time, but in his 3 minutes of play he shot 6 FT, more than any other Rocket, because he attacked with force, and drew contact. Given the moribund state of scoring on the Rockets second unit, and the sheer power and speed of Whitmore (and the fact that he has 3pt range), it currently seems insane not to give him some real minutes. How many more 14pt quarters with the 2nd unit offense collapsing, or similar, does Ime need to see?

This game felt like a beatdown, yet the Lakers only scored 107. That’s below league average, and a better offense could, and should, win such a game, despite the flaws. The Rockets typical bench scored 13pts. The Lakers Max Christie (Welcome Back, The Rando!) and the execrable, vile, James-Harden-Without-The-Handle-Passing-Or-Style-Charm-And-Sense-of-Shame Austin Reeves* scored 18. This is a problem.

Even in a terrible game, the Rockets still suppress scoring. They simply need more scoring of their own. If Cam takes Tate’s minutes sometimes, so be it. Tonight Tate wasn’t helping, and the Rockets couldn’t score. This seems simple to me.

Anyway, now the Rockets get another bunch of days off, before the schedule twists them in a knot. Hopefully they’ll play better, and manage a win on the road at some point.

Poll

Senti-Mentos?

This poll is closed

  • 6%
    Diet Coke Fountain
    (3 votes)
  • 17%
    Der Freshmaker
    (8 votes)
  • 4%
    Freshish, like Reddish
    (2 votes)
  • 40%
    Technically Fouled
    (19 votes)
  • 31%
    The Stench of Austin Reeves Game
    (15 votes)
47 votes total Vote Now

  • No, seriously, he’s gross. A disgusting player, capable of only grifting, falling down, head whips, or front-running it seems. If the Lob City Clippers were incarnated as one person, with 1/50th of the talent, that person would be Austin Reeves. Maybe he’ll sprain his neck on a non-contact head whip because a defender looked at him? Again, people hate Harden, but love this clown car version of Harden?