Rockets 112, Pelicans 131 - Hit the Ground Stumbling

By Forrest Walker on October 17, 2018

The Houston Rockets didn't look like they had anything to prove tonight. They also didn't look like they had a game plan, or chemistry, or NBA-level talent. After waiting months to see these Rockets play in a real regulation game, the collective NBA world was treated not to the 65-win juggernaut they were last season, but something more like the Worst Defense In The League many people expect them to be every season. Now, instead of analyzing how the pieces fit, the only thing left to do is to try to judge whether there's cause for real concern.

The story of this game is a simple one: the New Orleans Pelicans outclassed the Rockets in every possible way. Anthony Davis, Nicola Mirotic and Julius Randle absolutely bulldozed Houston's frontcourt, and it was a sight to behold. Davis was utterly unstoppable, and Mirotic and Randle complemented him perfectly. The Pelicans are zagging toward size up front while the current elite teams are zigging toward small, shooting lineups, and tonight's game certainly didn't make that look like a poor choice.

This game was reminiscent of games against the Pelicans last season, including an ugly loss for Houston as well as the ACL tear DeMarcus Cousins is still recovering from. In a very real way, this is a nightmare matchup for Houston, especially now that Davis seems to be entering the avatar state at will. The Rockets also looked discombobulated and hung over from a grueling season, a brutal playoff exit and a brush with greatness.

None of this, however, encompasses how grim it truly was. Doomsayers have been saying doom about losing Trevor Ariza and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute as well as the retiring of defensive mastermind coach Jeff Bzdelik. Tonight, that doom seemed real. Of course, not even all of those factors together can account for just how bad the defense was. Houston's defensive rating was 124.8, an eye-popping number that would easily be the worst in the league if continued throughout the season. Players looked lost and confused, doubling and helping with no purpose or pattern.
There's no way this was an average night for Houston defensively. The question now is just how anomalous it was. The offense wasn't even good, either, despite the 112 Houston put up. Their offensive rating was a mere 107.7, down almost double digits from last season. The hope has to be that this was a wake-up call, and possibly a down evening as well as a bad matchup, and they go on to raze the countryside once again.

If not, the Rockets are in a world of trouble.

As for the players, you'll see a lot of digital ink spilled about how bad Carmelo Anthony and Michael Carter-Williams were. They weren't good, and that ink might be right about the viability of those signings. It's worth noting, however, that everyone on the team played badly. Eric Gordon (team-high 21 points) and PJ Tucker (19 points, 4-7 on threes) looks acceptable. James Harden was one rebound from a triple double and didn't stand out. It was a bad night across the board, and to ascribe all the blame to a few role players is premature and a bit vindictive.

I remain skeptical of Melo.

The only thing to do for this Rockets team now is to lick their wounds, watch some film and maybe send an email to Jeff Bzdelik about what he'd do here. They have a back-to-back in Los Angeles this weekend, facing the Lakers and Clippers on successive days. They can't get back this loss to New Orleans, but they can hopefully move past it.

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