Rockets 112, Clippers 115 - Disappointed

By Forrest Walker on October 21, 2018

The Houston Rockets followed up their contentious win over the Los Angeles Lakers with a clunker against a feisty Los Angeles Clippers team. They spent a few days in Los Angeles, managed to only beat the team that includes LeBron James, and got their second-best player suspended in the process. It's been an extremely bizarre first week of the NBA season, and few teams have looked more befuddling than the Houston Rockets.
This has not been the atrocious opening of the season Houstonians do not speak of. That was far more of a nightmarish train wreck just three games in, and it was clear almost immediately that all hope was lost. This season looks more like a tired, sloppy slog. In a series of games in which the Rockets have yet to hold a team under 115, Houston simply hasn't looked like the same team as last season.

Tonight, the Rockets looked like they simply had nothing in the tank mentally or physically. They're one of the oldest teams in the league, and playing a back to back on the road is never easy. I won't speculate as to when they went to bed last night, but they looked a step slow all game. Moreover, they looked a step slow mentally. On an evening in which the Golden State Warriors lost a game to the Denver Nuggets, top-flight teams having a hard time getting into the swing of the regular season isn't hard to see. The difference between Houston and Golden State is that the Warriors have shown their mettle many times over, while the Rockets have somehow already burned through the respect they earned last season.

Perhaps they just need to find their motivation. More likely, what they lost was less spiritual and more related to the departures of Jeff Bzdelik, Trevor Ariza and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. The middling-at-best proclivities of this squad retroactively bring up questions about last season's 65-win team, prompting one to wonder just how much more than the sum of its parts that team was.

One new addition who did not do anything to better the team was Carmelo Anthony, who shot a dismal 3-8, had only 9 points to go with 6 rebounds and was a sieve on defense. The Carmelo Anthony experiment might be a new show in Houston, but has been ongoing in the league for fifteen years, and the results are generally in. He was a massive negative in Oklahoma City, and any positives he brings to Houston will have to be offset against his repulsive defense.

Of course, there's a very buried lede here. The Rockets are missing Chris Paul, who sat out the first half of his two-game suspension for an altercation with Rajon Rondo. Without going too far into the lurid details, let's get right into the lurid details. Brandon Ingram shoved James Harden from behind. Four game suspension. Rajon Rondo got into it with Chris Paul and spat in Paul's face (which was alleged and then supported by video evidence). Three game suspension. Chris Paul threw some punches and the whole thing broke apart.

This is all to say that Michael Carter-Williams is by no means an acceptable substitute for Chris Paul in this or any rotation. Carter-Williams joins Melo for the two worst +/- numbers of the night, -15 and -18 respectively. He has many good physical tools, but has shown little defensive capability in actual NBA play and moreover has been an utter disaster defensively. The Rockets miss Chris Paul immensely. In fact, they badly need Brandon Knight to get healthy, which is not a great limb to be out on.

All of that could have been water under the bridge if only the Rockets could figure out how to rebound. This issue reached a fever pitch against the Clippers, with Los Angeles winning the battle on the glass 49-35. The only reason the Clippers didn't have a massive field goal attempts advantage was the fact that the Rockets  kept sending them to the free throw line.

The reality is that this was a game the Rockets had every chance to win, but managed to give away with multiple concerted efforts. The Clippers may not be the elite team they once were, but they're plenty able to out-hustle and out-physical a sloppy Rockets team. They're also happy to use their impressive depth to obliterate the Rockets when they rely on a lineup with neither James Harden nor Chris Paul in it. The good news, at least, is that Paul will only miss one more game. The bad news is that we really don't know how much that will help.

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