After a disappointing loss to the Lakers Sunday night, here are three areas the Houston Rockets need to improve upon headed into game three.
Yes, the first improvement is quite vague. If the Rockets want to get anywhere in this series against the Lakers they need Russell Westbrook to be better. It’s as simple as that.
Sunday night, Russell Westbrook recorded a -14 plus-minus. He was the only Houston Rockets starter to reach the negatives in said statistic. On top of his plus-minus, Westbrook went 4-15 from the field and 1-7 from the three. He also accumulated a team-high 7 turnovers.
Obviously we cannot win this series without help from the triple-double king- Russell Westbrook. However, what we do need is for Westbrook to understand his role. Russell Westbrook, who isn’t a historically great three-point shooter should not be chucking up seven threes in a game, even in an offense reliant on the three-ball.
Superstars are bound to have off-nights, it’s just part of the game. Westbrook may not be the type of player to go out and drop 50 on amazing efficiency, and that’s okay. What we do need, is for him to utilize his physicality and energy. More driving and fewer threes. Westbrook needs to understand his weaknesses and play off his superstar quality attributes.
Despite his poor performance, this is what you love to see from your star players. Acknowledging your poor performance is the exact quality you need in a leader. Be on the lookout for a hungrier and fiercer Russ in game three.
Poor Decision-Making from MDA
Even with the lackluster performance from Russell Westbrook, former 2-time coach of the year Mike D’Antoni also needs to be better. Late down the stretch, there were some very questionable decisions.
D’Antoni attempted to test the waters early in the first quarter, with an unsuccessful challenge. The original call on the court was a charge on James Harden, the call would later stand and would not be overruled. While this challenge wasn’t necessary, it would have definitely been nice to hold onto this challenge for the late game, or at least for a call that would’ve had a higher chance of being overruled. Although the early use of the challenge wasn’t a game-altering decision, I still believe this to be a fair critique.
The fourth quarter is where Mike D’Antoni displayed the majority of his poor decision-making. After coming off a monstrous third-quarter rally, the Houston Rockets were headed into the fourth up by two at 92-90. The Rockets had outscored the Los Angeles Lakers 41-23 in the third and had now shifted the momentum heading down the final stretch. The Rockets were adjusting perfectly and leading the charge.
Leaving Russell Westbrook in the game down the stretch is what killed us. With 5 fouls to his name, the Lakers were aggressively attacking Westbrook. It’s at this point that adjustments should have been made on D’Antoni’s part. Rather, Westbrook played 9 minutes in the fourth and accumulated two costly turnovers while shooting 20% from the field for the quarter.
The Houston Rockets rotation needs adjustments. To put into perspective, the Los Angeles Lakers are running a 9 man rotation, a rotation where only 3 players see more than 30 minutes of playing time and 8 players in total see above 20 minutes of playing time. On the other hand, the entire starting lineup of the undersized Rockets is playing above the 30-minute threshold.
The Rockets need to expand their rotation. Only seven Rockets players are getting some quality playtime, despite nine players getting minutes. The other two players being Austin Rivers and Ben McLemore.
Although Rivers and McLemore aren’t the most defensively enticing players in the world, the offensive capabilities they can bring to this lineup are endless. Both players have yet to see quality minutes this postseason, which definitely impacts the small sample-size performances we’ve been getting from them thus-far.
Rivers and McLemore also rank in the top five in three-point efficiency on the Rockets, McLemore being the most efficient, shooting 40% from three. Even though both players have their weaknesses defensively, a slight rise in playing time could prove beneficial towards the offense and give some quality resting minutes to Russell Westbrook who is freshly off a quad injury.