So after winning five in a row, Rockets give back six in a row and are now just out of the 8th spot. I think their losing streak as a lot to do with guys being fatigued from playing way too many minutes–especially Harden and Parsons. The other MAJOR factor is the grueling schedule. During this six-game losing streak, they had 3 back-to-backs, and five away games. Obviously, this is the worst-case-scenario, but it’s also not THAT surprising. I know I’ve been away for a little while during this losing streak. It’s because I didn’t find that there was much to say. I would have said pretty much the same thing during every game write up. Guys are just tired and the schedule is grueling. Of course, there’s always things to say about specific games, but for the most part, I think this is what’s happening. I know it’s a very simple explanation (and I’ll get more specific later in this post about other concerns), but often the simplest explanation is the correct one.
During this 6-game losing streak, the teams that played the best against them were the Pacers and the Clippers. Rockets would have lost to these teams even when they were rolling. They just got too many good players and Rockets are simply over-matched. My big bold prediction is that the Pacers will beat the Heat (Heat has a very weak bench) in the Eastern finals and lose to the Thunder in the finals. There’s also a chance that the Clippers can be title contenders. Of course, the problem with this prediction is that the Heat step up their game to a whole other level during the playoffs. This is what happens when you have what some are calling THE GOAT (Greatest of all Time). This is why it’s a big bold prediction on my part. Anyway, all this is to say that the Pacers are really good, so the loss to them last night wasn’t too hard to take.
The Hornets game was also a game I expected to lose, as well as the Dallas game, both games came on the back end of back-to-backs and also because I thought both teams are much better than their record. The only game I saw us winning was against the Sixers, since they’re not very good. So the likely scenario for me was that the Rockets would have won 1 of 6 games during this stretch. The Celtics game could have gone either way for me. So the best case scenario for me during these grueling six games was for the Rockets to win 2 of 6.
So it’s not too surprising to me that the Rockets lost six in a row. I know it looks really bad, but I think a lot of it has to do with the schedule and guys being tired. They got another back-to-back tonight and should end their losing streak. They have a much easier schedule coming up in the next five games. So these next five games will be critical in determining whether or not this six-game losing streak is anything to panic over. If the Rockets string together a five-game winning streak, which I think is likely (the only game I see them dropping is the Nets game, since that’s a back-to-back and they’ve never played the Nets so I have no idea how they’ll match up against the Nets), then we can just chalk up this six-game losing streak to a very grueling schedule.
Some indications that the guys are fatigued: missed free throws, missed shots at the rim, and missed threes. Also, guys just aren’t running anymore. The one who looks the most tired to me, lately, is Harden, not surprisingly. This is why Harden has struggled so much in the last few games after being so ridiculously consistent for so long. I think Harden just hit a wall. A good indication of his fatigue is that he’s not strong enough to draw fouls. He’s also missing free throws, missing shots at the rim and missing threes. It’s more apparent with Harden, because he’s been so consistently good. I think it’s time to give James Anderson a try. I was proud of McHale for trusting Beverly so quickly. Beverly played only two minutes in garbage time against the Clippers, but it was enough for everyone to see how good he is. In fact, I was surprised that his D-League average was so mediocre, considering how good he is. He should be blowing it up like Lin did during Lin’s stint in the D-League. I think he averaged something like 13 points and 7 assists or something during his brief stint in the D-League. Now, I’m not sure if Beverly is this good, because he’s just playing on adrenalin or something. But he looks pretty much unstoppable on the offensive end and he’s a GREAT on-ball defender (a lot of people hesitate to use a word like “great” to describe a player with Beverly’s background, but I don’t really care about where a player comes from, I just call it like I see it). He makes guys so uncomfortable when he defends them and he’s got amazing lateral quickness and just overall quickness. He has an incredible ability to stay with his man. Again, I don’t know if it’s because he knows he’ll just be playing for 10 or so minutes and is giving it his all out there, or if he is THIS good. He actually looks a lot like Douglas on defense, but I’m less nervous that he’ll pick up a foul, although he did pick up quick fouls against the Mavs. Beverly has more length than Douglas, so that’s why I’m less nervous about his aggressiveness on defense. I think we have a great back up to Lin and if Lin is not careful, there’s a chance that Beverly could go Linsane on Lin. The only question I have about Beverly is whether or not he’s playing so well, because he knows he’ll only be out there for 10 or so minutes and is just giving it his all, or if he’s THIS good, because he didn’t light it up in the D-League. If he’s as good as what I’ve seen out of him so far, then I would have expected him to go Linsane in the D-League–granted he was only there a short period of time. But he also wasn’t lighting it up overseas. So that’s confusing to me, also. So is this all adrenalin or is Beverly THIS good. If it’s just adrenalin, then Beverly will make a great back-up to Lin, but if he’s THIS good, then he may even take Lin’s job.
What concerns me is not the losing streak, it’s how the Rockets have been playing. And what I want to know is whether or not it’s simply due to fatigue or if there’s something more fundamentally wrong. I’m sure fatigue is a big factor, but they’ve looked so bad out there lately that I’m starting to question our offense (our defense has always been an issue, so that’s nothing new and you need a lot of energy on defense, so fatigue is an even bigger factor on defense). There’s a lot of missed cues or lack of communication going on out there and very little ball movement or player movement in the half-court. Granted, McHale has never had much of a half-court offense, but I still saw screens off the ball and guys cutting and moving without the ball back in December. We’re just not getting any of that and I think it’s a lot to do with fatigue. But is it merely physical fatigue or also the fact that guys just don’t know what to do out there, because McHale doesn’t run very many plays, so guys don’t really know where to move on the court. This is what I’m concerned about. During December, the Rockets were playing with such pace and getting a lot of transition baskets due to effort that it masked a lot of McHale’s and the young player’s deficiencies in the half-court. So now that the Rockets have slowed down considerably due to fatigue, the lack of half-court sets is really apparent. Again, what I don’t know is if it’s because the players are just too tired to move around or if they just don’t know where to move to on the court, because of lack of direction by McHale. If it’s the latter, than I”m very concerned. If it’s the former, then I think the Rockets can bounce back once they get their legs back and McHale expands his rotation. Remember Terrance Jones? I’m still disappointed that McHale has relegated him to the D-League. I think he has great potential and now that 2Pat and Morris are struggling, it’s time to test Terrance Jones and D-Mo out. I thin both Jones and D-Mo have more potential and can probably pair up better with Lin and Harden, because I think these guys are better PnR players. I mean pretty much anybody is better at the PnR tan 2Pat or Morris. Right now, our best PnR big is Greg Smith. The problem with D-Mo is that he’ll get overpowered on the defensive end, so that’s why I favor Jones over D-Mo.
The other big concern is that the Rockets are no longer running after made baskets. I think the only guy I see that’s still making a concerted effort to run after made baskets is Lin. Maybe it’s because I’m most focused on Lin, but it seems like he’s the only one that’s still following that concept. But it does no good if only a few guys are running. What made the Rockets so devastating in December is that the entire team would run after made baskets and they would get easy points that they had no business of getting. During this six-game winning streak, the Rockets have gone away from that completely. Again, fatigue is a big factor. What I want to know is if it’s just physical fatigue or is it also mental fatigue. Are the players getting mentally tired of having to run after every made basket and are just slacking off because they don’t see the point of having to do it EVERY time, since it only pays off a few times. I think what’s happened is that the guys are getting really tired so they’re being more selective about when to run after made baskets and as they keep doing this, they see very little point in doing it at all. This is a little hard to explain, but the whole concept of running after made baskets is a numbers game, so you have to essentially run after EVER made basket, otherwise it won’t really work. The idea is that you, of course, won’t be successful every time or even most times you run after made baskets. In fact, you’ll only be successful like 10% of the time or something. But the key is to do it EVERY time, because you don’t really know which times it will work. Now, of course there will be obvious times when it will work and when it will not work and there’s something to be said about mixing things up and not running EVERY time so you can catch the defense off guard. But my point is that due to fatigue, I think some of the players are trying to save their energy by being a lot more selective about when they run after made baskets and in doing so they find less and less success and, as a result, they’ve stopped doing it altogether reasoning that it’s too much work for the amount of success. But the thing is, that’s the Rockets competitive advantage. So if they stop doing that, they lose a huge edge over the competition. So my concern is if they’ve stopped running after made and (and also missed) baskets because their legs are just not physically capable, or if it’s because they’ve stopped buying into the concept.
My third concern, and this has been a concern all season, is the lack of screens. Our Bigs have never been good at setting picks, but it was even worse during the six-game losing streak. I hardly saw screens during many of these games. I think last night’s game is where I saw the Bigs make a concerted effort to set screens consistently. I think Smith should be doing a lot of PnRs when he’s in there, since he’s really the only Big on the team who’s capable of doing it. So McHale should make a concerted effort to tell Smith to do PnRs with Lin and Harden pretty much every time he’s out there. I don’t know why this is not obvious to the Rockets coaching staff. There was one game back in December where Lin and Smith were just toying with the defense and basically had consecutive practice PnR drills. I think this could happen a lot more if the Rockets coaching staff tells Smith to set screens for Lin and Harden when he’s out there. Anyway, it was good to see that they did make a concerted effort to set screens last night. I think McHale had a talk with the Bigs.
So to sum up, my concerns about this losing streak is not the losing streak per se. I’m more concerned about whether or not players have a rough idea of where they can move to on the court in the half-court set so we can get some movement without the ball, whether or not the players have stopped buying into the concept of running in transition after EVERY made and missed basket, and whether or not the coaching staff will be successful in forcing the Bigs to consistently set screens for Lin and Harden.
One note/big bold prediction: James Anderson will see some non-garbage time minutes tonight and in the coming games. Hopefully, he can prove himself like Beverly has. At the very least, he’ll probably be better for the Rockets on the defensive end than Harden. Also, I mentioned this earlier in the long, rambling post: I predict that the Rockets end their losing streak tonight.