- The Houston Rockets have been blown out several times and their offense and defense has sunk to the bottom of the league while beginning the season 1-5.
- Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni acknowledged that while it’s early, due to the stiff competition in the West, the Rockets can’t afford to fall too far behind.
- Even if the Rockets slowly climb back to .500, they’ll face a steep uphill climb just to get back on a pace that would allow them to compete for a top-four seed in the West.
The Houston Rockets came within minutes last season of knocking off the Golden State Warriors to make the NBA Finals. Now, after a somewhat shaky offseason that saw them lose some key players, things have done a complete 180 for the Rockets.
Following a 104-85 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday, the Rockets are now 1-5, sitting in last in the Western Conference.
But it’s not just that the Rockets have lost games – it’s how they’ve lost them. In their four losses, the Rockets have trailed by double digits in all of them, going down by 29 once and 28 twice. Their lone win came over the Los Angeles Lakers in a game mostly know for a scuffle between Chris Paul and Rajon Rondo. They rank 24th in defense after ranking 7th last year, and their hyper-efficient offense is down to 26th.
There are some asterisks, however. The league suspended Paul for two games after the dust-up with the Lakers, and James Harden has missed two games with a sore hamstring. Nonetheless, the Rockets are supposed to be talented and deep enough to scrape by, even when one of their top guns is out.
It’s too early in the season to panic, and the Rockets have all insisted they’ll work their issues out. But even head coach Mike D’Antoni noted on Tuesday that the team has a unique problem in falling behind – the Western Conference is so good that it can be a death knell.
“It’s late if you’re in the Western division,” D’Antoni said. “That’s the problem.”
D’Antoni added, joking: “I’ll check with the analytics guys, but I think we’re still in it, mathematically.”
Nonetheless, there is justified concern over the Rockets’ start. After losing key defensive players like Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute, plus last year’s defensive architect Jeff Bzdelik, the Rockets have already discussed retooling their defensive system. Their offense has largely stayed the same, but players simply have not been connecting on shots.
The Rockets are a new team that is going through an adjustment period. The problem is the schedule gets tougher. They play three games in four nights and six of their next seven on the road. That schedule includes some tough outings like the Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs, and Indiana Pacers (twice).
The West hasn’t been the slaughterhouse some expected as teams like the Rockets, Thunder, and Lakers have gotten off to slow starts. Yet most expect those teams turn it around, while teams like the 5-3 Sacramento Kings may regress as the year goes on. The playoff picture will get more crowded.
The problem for the Rockets is that time won’t be on their side for long. Say, for example, that they finish their five-game road swing with a winning record, going 3-2, to bring their overall record to 4-7. To match last year’s 65-17 record, they would have to go 61-10 the rest of the way. To win 50 games – something that might be necessary to secure home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs – the Rockets would still have to go 46-25, a healthy .647 win percentage.
Everything is on a scale. Each win and loss, particularly against Western Conference opponents, can either help or hurt the Rockets. It’s too early to panic, but the Rockets can barely afford to dig themselves into a further hole.