Rockets 113, Clippers 133 - Mounting Failure

By Forrest Walker on October 26, 2018

The Houston Rockets sure don't look like a good basketball team. Sure, they may have been an astonishing, historic team last season. Unfortunately, that season ended and a new season is here. This new season, so far, has been a series of simultaneous gut punches, like somehow falling off several cliffs at the same time. The latest in the pile of failures is a truly embarrassing loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, in which Chris Paul's old team completely dominated as the game progressed. The Rockets look helpless right now, and there's no shortage of reasons why.

Perhaps the biggest issue for the Rockets is the fact they they've had exactly two games in which both Chris Paul and James Harden played, and tonight was the first one in which they've been missing James Harden. Without either of these players, the team is forced to rely on a bench unit which has been increasingly exposed as the games have continued. While Carmelo Anthony was decent (24 points, 8-18 shooting), relying on him to be excellent is a recipe for failure in the long term.

On top of that, Eric Gordon seems unable to play the game of basketball this year. He shot 3-14 and was a repulsive 1-6 from three point range, most of which were wide open. As a whole they shot 36% from deep, an acceptable number, but that was on the back of Anthony shooting 6-10 and Gerald Green chipping in 4-9, neither of which are close to reliable. All that being said, they did manage 113 points and a 111.9 offensive rating, which is not quite the 115ish they hung around last season, but still good enough to win with.

The problem is the 130 defensive rating they gave up.

Houston's defense is an utter disaster at the moment, with some solid stretches at the start of this game quickly giving way to an all-out avalanche. Ex-Rocket Montrezl Harrell had a game-(and career!)-high 30 points on 13 shots, getting to the rim with utter contempt. Houston has neither the manpower nor the scheme to stop the Clippers at current, and most other teams will put paid to them as well. Simply put, this is currently a bad team. Some of this is due to changes in defensive rules which hamstring switching defenses and part of this is due to losing two excellent defenders (Trevor Ariza and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute) as well as their key defensive coordinator in Jeff Bzdelik. The worst has happened to their defense, and it's not entirely something they could have prevented.

The good news is that they are also hamstrung by injury, something which can and will resolve. Harden will return from his hamstring strain soon, and the entire haul they got for Ryan Anderson (Brandon Knight and Marquese Chriss) are out as well. Ariza's relpacement, James Ennis, had to miss the game alongside less important pieces in Nene and Zhoi Qi. The Rockets were leaning on Gary Clark and Michael Carter-Williams in long stretches, something which is simply incompatible with being a playoff team, much less a hopeful contender.

Additionally, they can't shoot to save their lives, which probability suggests should revert to the mean at some point, though technically it might not. That's also a point of hope.

We'll see how the Rockets react to these ongoing routs, and when some of these external pressures begin to lessen. For now, however, the Rockets are buried under an increasing avalanche of failures and at this point just need something, anything to go right. As the Rockets look forward to the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday, they have a few days to figure out what that one thing might be.

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