Everyone knew the Rockets early schedule was brutal, but after the close loss against the Lakers Tuesday night, there was still a sense of hope for Houston to go .500 over these first eight games.
And then they faced Lob City and that hope was slimmer than Rick Perry’s chances after the Iowa Caucus.
Things were ugly early on, as the Rockets played one of the worst defensive quarters I’ve ever seen in the first period. After the Clippers third uncontested dunk in the first eight minutes, McHale took a time out at 24-17, it seemed as though the bleeding was over. But when they gave Lowry a breather, all of a sudden the 6’0” Paul was hitting wide open 8-foot jumpers in the lane and things just got worse on the way to a 41-point first quarter. The Clippers had 22 points in the paint in the first quarter alone (only four fewer total points than the Rockets in the quarter) and ended up with 62 overall. The lane might as well have been a Best Buy front door on Black Friday.
Nearly as disgusting were the Clippers 26 points on 19 turnovers in the game and the 68 percent shooting in the first half.
Lowry did everything he could in the first half to keep Houston in the game, hitting his first three three-pointers from probably 30 feet out, as if he was trying to add a few inches every time to one-up himself. My favorite stretch in the first half was toward the end of the second quarter when Kyle was going at Paul like a boxer trying to take away the championship belt. After a Lowry layup, Paul blew by Lowry on the following possession and K-Low followed it up by going coast to coast through DeAndre Jordan for a basket of his own and then mauling Paul on the in-bounds pass. He ended up with decent numbers with a 17/5/2 night.
The second quarter was a little better, overall, but every time Houston got the deficit to single digits, a defensive breakdown would lead to a Clippers run again. A 7-0 run to start the third quarter put it out of reach and the Rockets never looked competitive for the rest of the game. At that point, the Clippers were shooting 70 percent from the floor, and I thought maybe the Houston players were scoring the game like they were playing golf.
THE WORST PART
I can almost forgive all the points in the paint and the highlight dunks. But I can’t forgive Houston’s defenders not even putting a body on Griffin as he drove the lane. If someone is going to drive the lane on you, at some point you have to put a hard foul on them to make them think twice about it. The Rockets were Downy soft in this one. If McHale is serious about improving the team’s defense, the next time he sees Scola just stand there as an opposing player drives the lane and dunks three feet away from him, McHale needs to pull Scola and sit him the rest of the game. Period.
The Dalembert acquisition and the development of Hill was supposed to make us forget Chuck Hayes because of the shot blocking they provide, but instead it just made us forget how great the Chuckwagon was at taking a charge. In fact, the saddest part about their interior defense was that their most effective defensive unit was probably when they had Patterson and Parsons on the floor at the same time, as those guys were at least willing to take a charge. Which brings me to my next point…
THE ONE POSITIVE
Yeah, Lowry played a pretty good first half, but not spectacular and Paul clearly got the better of him. Scola and Martin had their moments offensively, but were so underwhelming on defense that they deserve no praise whatsoever. Dragic was decent and the Arizona boys were completely forgettable (which is practically a compliment considering how bad this game was).
So what silver lining could there possibly be in this game?
Chandler “Bing” Parsons. (Since CP is taken, how about a “Friends” reference for a nickname? Think about how satisfying it would be to hear “BIIIIIIIIIIIIING!!!” after every dunk from the PA announcer or chants of “BING! BING! BING!” when he’s on fire. This needs to happen. )
Sure, most of his points came in garbage time, but he had a couple of nice put back dunks, hit his fair share of open jumpers and was part of the Rockets most effective run in the second quarter. He also played the best defense of anyone on Blake Griffin and led the team in rebounding. It might sound crazy, but don’t be shocked if he ends up challenging Bud for the starting SF spot by the end of the season. He’s already beat out Morris for the team’s best rookie and has proven to be more consistent than T-Will despite so few practices, so imagine how good he’ll be once he really starts getting it.
The Rockets LA trip was the most disheartening thing out of LA since… well pretty much every Michael Bay movie ever. (Yeah, I’m still bitter about paying for Transformers II. I could have stayed home and watched two and a half hours of Teletubbies and been more intellectually stimulated.)
And now they’ve got a back-to-back series against the Thunder. However, if Houston could pull out one of those games, then 3-5 ain’t so bad considering they started 3-10 with an easier schedule last season and narrowly missed the playoffs. The rest of their January schedule includes Charlotte, Sacramento, Washington twice, Detroit, New Orleans, Milwaukee and Minnesota twice. The other games are against the Knicks (could be without Amare), the Spurs twice (without Manu) and Portland at home.
Every single one of those is a winnable game. So suppose Houston splits with the Thunder and then goes 9-4 the rest of the month. Then they’re looking at a 12-9 start moving into February. But unless McHale gets them to play better defense, then the real contenders in the NBA will never take them seriously…
Get more great Houston Rockets analysis over at Heart of a Champion.