The Houston Rockets have look, to say the least, lethargic and at times shell shocked the last few games. Sandwiched around a blowout win over the lowly Minnesota Timberwolves the Rockets have lost three out of four games. After last night lost to the Portland Trailblazers at home the Rockets now sit fifth in the West at 26-14. Losing one game is not a big deal it’s a long season but three out of four are concerning. With a big game on primetime coming up Saturday the question to be asked is it time to panic or is this just a bump in the road? Either way, there are areas of concern going forward that need to be addressed.
Rockets need to diversify there offense
Being a high volume 3-point shooting team the Rockets have never been known for shooting a high percentage. Even with that being the case for the Rockets to be successful they have to shoot a decent percentage. Over the last five games including last night’s loss, the Rockets are shooting 32 percent from downtown. That’s two percentage points lower than their season average. Two percent may not seem like a huge deal but when you are shooting 40 plus 3-pointers a game that is a huge drop in production.
Everyone knows the Rockets philosophy 3-pointers, shots in the paint or free throws. The problem with this philosophy is the Rockets don’t have enough consistent shooters or players who can create there own shots. Teams double James Harden and if his teammate’s aren’t making shots the Rockets simply can’t score consistently. Mike D’Antoni has to incorporate in more ball movement and player action toward the basket. If you don’t have enough playmakers than you have to make plays for them.
Move Harden off the ball more
When you have one of if not best isolation guards in NBA history its generally not a bad idea to give him as many isolations plays as possible. The problem is that NBA teams are smart eventually they will come up with a scheme to take away what your team does best. This is where D’Antoni comes into the picture. Teams are more and more double teaming Harden soon as he crosses half court. If your teammates are making shots this tactic doesn’t work but if they are missing wide-open shots you can guarantee they will stick with it the entire game.
When his teammates are not making shots having Harden constantly dribble into a double team just doesn’t work. With Russell Westbrook finding his stride it is time for the Rockets to take Harden off the ball more. Harden, when on, is one of the better shooters in the league. Having Harden come off screens or backdoor cuts would make life a lot easier. Having Harden come off screens doesn’t have to be just to shoot from downtown it is more for getting him on the move instead of the stationary one on one basketball. Teams are not going to let Harden dribble for 20 seconds to get his shot they will force the ball out of his hands so you have to change the way Harden gets the ball.
D’Antoni has to go deeper into the bench
Isaiah Hartenstein and Chris Clemons are two of the youngest players on the team. Unfortunately on a D’Antoni team that means you aren’t going to play much. Hartenstein coming off the best game of his career played only four minutes the next game and one-minute last game. Clemons has more DNP lately than shot attempts. With the Rockets lacking energy and simply hustle having these two players on the court could change both. It’s not a matter of measuring stats from either player but sometimes you need to go further in your rotation than seven players. Especially on back to backs and with Tucker and Capela playing injured. This was D’Antoni’s reasoning for not playing Hartenstein more in last night lost.
The problem with this is Hasaan Whiteside doesn’t play 48 minutes and at times Clint Capela seemed tired or injured. Hartenstein brings energy and hustle two things the Rockets are sorely lacking right now.
It’s not time for the Rockets to panic (yet)
Even though the Rockets have lost three out of four games they are still 26-14 only two games out of the second seed. Before this stretch, the Rockets had huge wins over at the time a fully healthy 76ers team and the team they are chasing for the second seed the Denver Nuggets. The Rockets have a huge game coming up Saturday with the LA Lakers a win vs the Lakers and all of a sudden this stretch doesn’t seem as bad. The NBA season is long and you will have ups and downs along the way if the Rockets make some adjustments and the role players step up this will just be a blip on the radar but the time is now for this to happen.
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