Five Factors Leading to the Rockets' Recent Skid and Why Things Will Improve

Kevin Hart thinks James Harden and the Rockets are going to be okay.
Kevin Hart thinks James Harden and the Rockets are going to be okay.
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At only 4-6 in their last ten games prior to the win against Sacramento Tuesday night, it might be tempting to write off the Rockets as a team that flashed hot out of the gate and is beginning to fade. But if you took the over on wins at the beginning of the season, don't hedge your bet now. There are good reasons for the Rockets’ recent struggles and plenty of light at the end of what is, quite frankly, not a terribly long tunnel.

No one likes losing and in a conference as competitive as the West, you can't slide for too long lest you find yourself in danger of losing home court advantage or even on the outside looking in come playoff time. Fortunately, there is plenty of time to right the ship and many reasons for optimism in Houston.

Injuries

The Rockets have been fortunate this season to avoid the big injury. They lost Clint Capela for four weeks with a broken leg and have seen nagging injuries to Nenê, Patrick Beverley and Eric Gordon. A virus took out Ryan Anderson for a week. But James Harden has remained healthy and, overall, the Rockets have been lucky. Still, when you do have multiple nagging problems, especially ones that overlap, it's not surprising to struggle, especially against good teams. With Gordon gimping around a bit the past couple of weeks, Capela just starting to return to game shape and Anderson battling back from a rough stretch, it is difficult to imagine any team maintaining the kind of run the Rockets were having when they went 9-0, especially with their recent schedule (more on that next).

Upcoming Events

How will this improve?

The good news is they are about to enter a period with fewer games, more time at home and, most important, a week off for the All-Star break. Since none of the injuries are considered significant enough to warrant extended down time and rest on the horizon, it's logical to think they have a chance to maintain relatively decent health for the stretch run.

Dense Schedule

The Rockets have played more games than any other NBA team thus far. That includes road games. In fact, they have played between four and six more road games than their closest conference rivals. They are just getting off their final long road trip of the season (five games) that immediately followed an insane eight games in 11 nights. In those previous 12 games, arguably the most brutal stretch of the season, they were 5-7, a respectable record considering the degree of difficulty. There are no excuses for losses to Miami or blowouts against Indy, but those can be explained just looking at the calendar.

How will this improve?

The schedule is about to get a lot lighter. They only have one back-to-back before the All-Star break, with both of those games at Toyota Center. The Kings, Bulls, Magic, Suns, Hornets and Heat are all scheduled in that stretch as well, with all but one of those games in Houston. The next six weeks represent one of the easiest portions of the schedule for the Rockets and they will need to take advantage if they want to maintain their position.

Road Games

As mentioned, no one has played as many road games as the Rockets. They just completed one of their longest stretches of the season away from home. By the end of it, they were clearly fatigued. Given how many tough stretches they've had and the brutal road schedule, where they are is pretty remarkable.

How will this improve?

Believe it or not, the Rockets only have 12 games left on the road this season. Those include games against the Clippers (twice), the Warriors and the Spurs. But, most are against the likes of the Pelicans, Nuggets, Suns and Kings.

Lack of Practice

One of the biggest side effects of a difficult schedule is a lack of time to practice. Players need to fine-tune their games during the season and they can only do that on the practice court. With so many road games and back-to-backs, it was nearly impossible to get in any reasonable practice time. The result, mixed with fatigue, has been some significant slippage on the defensive end of the floor.

How will this improve?

Home is where the practice court is. The Rockets should see decided improvement if for no other reason than that they'll be able to correct mistakes and game plan for opponents with greater regularity.

Midseason Slumps

It's important to note that the entire NBA, with a couple of notable exceptions, has been in a bit of a funk. In the past ten games, the Spurs have lost four, the Cavs six and the Raptors six. Only the Warriors seem to be unfazed by struggles that often accompany teams in the dead of winter. That means that despite recent struggles, the Rockets remain in the thick of the Western Conference home court advantage hunt. Their early season success has helped them stave off the comers, and the lighter upcoming schedule can help them add some distance.

How will this improve?

As the games get more critical, the focus of good teams tends to improve. Expect the Rockets to do the same.


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