Sixers 115, Rockets 107 - More of the Same

The Houston Rockets don't have sufficient shot creation. The second unit offense is dismal. They can't hit open threes. James Harden can't buy a foul call. Opposing team muscles them all game and eventually pulls away while the Rockets can't put together enough offense to hang. Does this sound familiar? It should, because that's just how things work now. Every game has become a time loop, with Houston being shown the same bad movie over and over again. This time, there weren't enough late-game heroics to rescue the Rockets from the Philadelphia 76ers. The Sixers get their win and another supposedly-elite team looks a little less elite and another unexpected long-term star injury muddies the waters of the NBA a little bit more. We've seen this movie enough times to know how it goes. Now we have to figure out how to get to the sequel.

To zoom out a bit, the Rockets have been pulled into the inscrutable weirdness of this early season, where nobody is really any good yet. The Memphis Grizzlies and Los Angeles Clippers look like the only actually good teams in the league right now, and they've begun to fall back to Earth as well. The Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors both look like they'd rather go to the dentist than show up for games and their records reflect this. The San Antonio Spurs had been treading water without Kawhi Leonard, but have now had some very ugly losses to make this arrangement look untenable. The Celtics without Gordon Hayward are good but not a contender. The Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards have come out hot but had embarrassing losses. The Oklahoma City Thunder seem powerful but unable to harness that. Nobody is credibly a contender yet. Presumably the Warriors and Cavaliers will reassert their dominance at some point, but until then we're just giving them the benefit of the doubt.

A large part of this bizarre situation is likely due to the point in the season we are at. Bad and middling teams tend to overplay a bit right out of the gates before the heavy hitters wake up or shape up. It's exacerbated by the pile of injuries to important players around the league, which makes the Celtics and Rockets of the world look like they have gaping holes in their rosters because they very much do. This is the morass the Rockets are stuck in, and the doldrums the entire league is dealing with. This temporary parity is likely exciting for people with no rooting interest, or an interest  in one of the teams that wasn't expected to be elite. It's a bit more frustrating if you happen to be on a team that just went all-in on a hall of fame level player and have yet to play him for an entire game.

There's no way this situation is anything but frustrating for the Houston Rockets, who have significantly less guard depth now, and nothing to show for it yet. On top of that, their vaunted three-point shooting isn't impressing anyone. They shot under 30% from behind the arc tonight, again. It wasn't just a lack of open shots, though that remains an issue without a second real point guard. They clanged open look after open look, as they have all season. It resembles their confusing and primarily inaccurate start to the 2015-2016 season, but this time the team is good enough that a nightmare scenario results in a 5-3 record and not 4-7. It's impossible to know from here what's going wrong, and it's likely not clear if you're in the locker room. Being inexplicably bad at the one thing you're known for being good at must be frustrating, though, and at some point becomes a self-fulfilling anxiety.

What should be done about their terrible three point shooting? Unless we assume that Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon are now terrible three point shooters, there's nothing to be done apart from get some wins and some energy. There aren't better shooters to acquire or trade for. Even if there were, it seems likely they would immediately slump as well. Something has to change, and we all know what it is. The change that will lift the Rockets out of the doldrums of the league-wide mediocrity the league is mired in is staring us in the face, wearing a suit, on the sideline of every game. It's tiresome to keep going back to this, but there's nothing else to go back to. It's the same damn song, over and over again.

They need Chris Paul. They need better shooting. They need to get out of the funk. They need to win. Latest verse, same as the first.

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