As the NBA season progresses and gets deep into the late winter doldrums, it is understandable when good teams get a bit complacent. The Golden State Warriors, who visit Toyota Center on Wednesday, are in the midst of a tough stretch after a recent double-digit loss to the awful Suns.
For the Rockets, they continue to win games — nine in a row with their 118-106 win over Charlotte Monday night — but they also flirt with disaster. Up 29 at one point against the Hornets, Charlotte closed to within 10 in the fourth quarter. A bad fourth quarter against the Mavs nearly cost them a game against a mediocre Dallas team.
That doesn't even count lost leads to good teams like Boston and Toronto. First half leads have had a way of evaporating in Rockets games.
The big difference, at least right now, is it hasn't cost them. Finally at full strength, the Rockets are simply better than most NBA teams right now and it shows. But players and coaches admit that the lack of second half intensity cannot continue as they get closer to and into the playoffs. "A lot of it's human nature and some of it's self inflicted," said Coach Mike D'Antoni after the game Monday night.
The Rockets still have a lot to play for in this regular season. They remain in third place in the Western Conference and have an outside shot at second. Beat Golden State on Wednesday and they may even eyeball the top spot in the West. There is no reason to let off the gas.
Having said that, blowing leads in the modern NBA is not uncommon. The explosion of offense in the modern NBA and the record number of three pointers being taken means very few leads are safe. A 20-point lead today is akin to an eight-point lead 20 years ago. And it is tough to maintain intensity for an entire game.
Still, if the Rockets plan to make waves in the playoffs, they need to work on plugging those holes. At some point, it will catch up to them. Fortunately, they realize that. "Maybe it's the new reality and players got to get used to that," D'Antoni said. "Some of it is them. A lot of it is us."