Long before Portland took their largest lead of the game well into the fourth quarter of game two in the first round of the Western Conference at Toyota Center, the cracks were showing in the Rockets' foundation. Despite a blistering start with Dwight Howard absolutely dominating on the low post going for 19 points in the first quarter, a team playoff record for a single quarter, the Blazers were not fazed. By the third quarter they were in control even if the Rockets managed a couple of runs to keep it close.
What appeared to be anomalies in game one turned into trends deep into game two, and it started to become clear that the Rockets might not be the best team in this series. Prior to the series, Portland appeared to be the more unbalanced team. They had a suspect bench and a terrible defense. As the final ticks came off the clock putting the Blazers up 0-2 in the series heading back to the Pacific Northwest, the problems were mounting for the favorites.
At this point, there is good reason to be concerned if you are a Rockets fan.
They are heading to Portland.
It's one thing to lose the home court advantage by dropping one game at home, but to lose both heading on the road is a disaster. The Rockets are the only team in the Western Conference to emerge from the first pair of games without a win. With two games in Portland, it is conceivable the Rockets may come back to Houston ousted from the playoffs. Odds are they will pick up at least one win and this is the 20-year anniversary of Choke-turned-Clutch City, but don't count on any miraculous comebacks.
Rockets are being badly out-coached.
After the third quarter when Aldridge continued to just destroy the Rockets on defense, Coach Kevin McHale, interviewed on TNT, said the Rockets had tried to double team the Portland power forward, but he was shooting too quickly for them to get there. Either his team is woefully overmatched on defense or McHale is unable to coach it. Maybe it's both. It's difficult to trust a team like the Rockets --- who routinely look confused on the defensive end of the floor --- to make good decisions when it comes to double teaming and rotations, but you have to do something different when nothing is else is working.
James Harden has disappeared.
Nine to 33. In two games, the Rockets best offensive player is shooting 27 percent from the field and 31 percent from the three point line. His defensive effort has been well documented -- witness the complete lapse in concentration with under 35 seconds allowing his man to get free for a layup at the opposite end of the floor -- but no one could have expected him to completely vanish on the offensive end of the floor. And he hasn't looked right in either game, perhaps no more evident than his sixth foul with 22 seconds left in game two on the offensive end when the team desperately needed to score. It is difficult to imagine what has happened, but he better figure it out and quick.
The defense is abysmal.
The Rockets have been a terrible defensive team all year long, but nothing compares to what has happened in this series. They have looked utterly befuddled on the defensive end of the court. It is one thing to allow LaMarcus Aldridge to go off for more than 80 points -- the last player to do that was Kobe Bryant -- but to be so out of sync, leaving Blazers wide open with regularity, is tough to swallow. It's ironic considering the only thing the Rockets players could seem to talk about in training camp was how important it was for them to be committed to defense. At this point, I think most fans would settle for effort.
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And they can't shoot either.
It is a common adage in the NBA that a team that lives by the three, dies by it. When you consider the Rockets are shooting 27 percent from beyond the arc yet jacking up nearly a third of their total shots from distance, the math just doesn't work. Rockets GM Daryl Morey has said statistics show the best shots, percentage wise, are threes and ones taken in the paint. That may be so, but that is assuming they actually make some of those long-range shots. Some wondered early on how Harden and Howard would play together. Clearly, right now the answer is not well. They look as disorganized on offense as they were on defense and that is remarkable.
LaMarcus freaking Aldridge
When a player scores 89 points in two games in the playoffs, that is simply incredible. Yes, the Rockets did not defend him particularly well, but he is hitting from everywhere. Few players ever get on a roll like this one and it is possible the Rockets have simply run into a player who is playing at a historic level. If so, this series may end very quickly.