I only slightly pandered to typical first-game-freakouts earlier this month, and assured there was no need for substantial concern. I stand by my mentality that this small sample size isn’t worrisome in the context of how this team will look down the stretch or in the playoffs. But I do believe a sense of urgency needs to be instilled sooner than later.
Houston only needs last season for proof.
Daryl Morey, much to the annoyance and displeasure of Draymond Green, touted throughout last season that his overarching strategy, and this team, were constructed to beat one opponent – the Golden State Warriors. An integral part of that recipe is securing the No. 1 seed, and necessitates being treated as such. Of course, Houston Rockets fans remember the agony of that Game 7 at Toyota Center – complete with a horrid 0-for-27 three point stretch – but that environment and advantage are incredibly crucial if Houston wants any shot at beating Golden State.
The Rockets did start slow last season as well, getting off to a 5-3 mark. However, Houston didn’t record their fourth loss until the 16th game, or their fifth loss until the 30th game. Even so, the Rockets were in a dogfight for the West’s top spot until mid-March. This exemplifies the major damage that any negative run can have on a season built around winning the top seed, and Houston’s should be.
One aspect of Houston’s losses that raises a potentially sustainable concern is their home form. The Rockets tied for the best home record in the league last season, at 34-7, surely playing a key part in their ascent to the top. But they’ve started this campaign 0-2 at home.
Losing to very good teams
Houston came up against quality opponents in those contests, being the New Orleans Pelicans and Utah Jazz, but both are squads that a team of the caliber of the Rockets should be beating in their own arena. Last season, Houston went 6-1 at home against those two teams, including the second round playoff series against Utah.
One might look at the Rockets’ seemingly key losses from last season, and the frustrating addition of DeMarcus Cousins by the Warriors, and feel a sense of despair about reaching the top this year. Although their roster is more daunting than ever, we should remember the boredom and lethargy that manifested itself a surprising amount in this Warriors team last season. Another title and cake walk in the 2018 Finals might only continue that trend. Cousins also isn’t scheduled to return to the team until January or February, and is coming off a devastating Achilles injury. Rudy Gay, Wesley Matthews and Elton Brand are all recent players that struggled mightily after such a setback.
The adage is true, it’s a make-or-miss league. The Oct. 24 loss to the Jazz was greatly affected by this, as Eric Gordon shot 5-for-21 from the field and 1-for-12 from three. Buckets have to come. But increased energy, better team defense and lineup cohesion will also be important in getting the Rockets out of this rut.
The latter might be quite the task for the team and Mike D’Antoni, as he’s playing with many new chess pieces, some of which have more challenging fits. Lineup chemistry might be the last domino to fall for this group, but better overall play in general is needed from the new additions. James Ennis and Michael Carter-Williams finding a pulse, Carmelo Anthony settling into his new role and guys returning from injury will all be helpful lifelines for Houston in the coming weeks.
Also, there’s that Chris Paul dude. He returned from suspension after his bout that thrilled America against his former team, the Los Angeles Clippers. Icing on the cake would be for James Harden’s comments on his hamstring injury suffered against the Jazz to be true. He’s apparently not very worried. Fingers crossed.
Again, it’s super early. Houston has fought back from much worse situations, much later in the year. A deflating skid last season where the Rockets lost seven of nine games in late December and early January put them four games back of a Warriors team that was coasting at the time. It’s a long season, but the guys need to recognize the importance of stopping this funk in it’s tracks.
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