If at the beginning of this seven-game homestand someone would ask the average Rocket fan what a good record would be given the teams on the schedule, most would likely want 7-0, but they would certainly settle for 5-2, which is exactly what they got after the Rockets went down to the NBA's league-leading defense Wednesday night.
The Pacers slowed the game down, forced James Harden into an awful shooting night and never gave up the lead. None of the other Rockets could respond with the exception of the player we featured yesterday, Greg Smith, who had a career night with 18 points and 19 rebounds.
The difference was the front court. The Pacers' starting center and forwards outscored the Rockets' starting trio 60 to 19. Without the efforts of backups Smith and Thomas Robinson (10 points, 4 rebounds), this could have been much worse.
The Pacers, like several good defensive teams have over the last month, exploited an area of weakness for the Rockets. When Harden is held in check, which is tough to do, other guys must hit shots, particularly from distance. When the Rockets don't shoot well, they tend not to defend well either and things don't go so well.
The good news is that the young Rockets have learned to battle. Earlier in the season, they might have slouched their shoulders and let the Pacers steamroll them, but they fought back as they have in so many recent games, ultimately coming up short.
But with a good stretch of home games behind them and a playoff spot all but locked up, they take a quick one-game road trip to Memphis to face a very good Grizzlies team before coming back to Toyota Center to meet the Clippers on the second night of a tough back-to-back.
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Currently at seventh in the playoff chase, it is almost a certainty the Rockets will make the playoffs, particularly since they will face the Magic, Kings (twice) and Suns (twice), all struggling teams. It's also reasonable to assume they win at least a few against their better opponents in their final 11 games. While they could move up into the sixth spot at only a half game back of Golden State, they could also slide to eighth with the Lakers only two-and-a-half games back.
But with LA's recent injury issues and Utah and Dallas seemingly falling out of the playoff picture, that seems less likely.
At this point, getting into the playoffs is more important than seeding for this young team that will probably get run in the first round. But the experience would be invaluable. For now, they face their final 11 games and hope they fare better than they did against Indiana.