Just over a week ago, it looked like the Rockets could, perhaps, maybe slide into second place in the Western Conference standings. They were on a winning streak with a game against the awful Knicks before facing the Clippers, who were just ahead of them in the standings. A lot can change in a week.
Since then, the Rockets have dropped four straight including three to New York, Charlotte and Orlando. In between, they were pummeled by the Clippers. Instead of climbing into one of the top spots in the West, they have fallen to sixth, just a game ahead of Dallas.
What the hell happened?
In addition to missing shots...and lots of them...this week has been a combination of some very bad elements all combined to make for a miserable set of games.
Their defense has been lackluster and their general overall hustle has been lacking. Those two things go hand-in-hand when it comes to the small-ish Rockets. When they were winning, they were swarming on defense, creating turnovers and turning those into points. In the last four games, they are near the bottom of the league in defensive rating.
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But, the defense can't help them when the offense can't score. For several weeks, James Harden has struggled, mightily. In the last four, he has averaged 26 points (down from his season average of nearly 35), on 32 percent shooting and just 19 percent from behind the three-point line. As a team, they are shooting just 29 percent from three and 41 percent from the field.
More importantly, the Rockets have just been lethargic on both ends of the floor. Coach Mike D'Antoni believes their confidence has been shaken and P.J. Tucker said each player needs to "look in the mirror."
Whatever they do, they better do it fast. With 19 games left in the regular season, they are unlikely to miss the playoffs outright — they lead the eighth place Pelicans by more than 10 games in the standings — but they could fall all the way to seventh. They way they are playing at the moment, it probably wouldn't matter if they were first, however. It's almost like the team found out last week that the league was going to cancel the rest of the season before the coronavirus this week and didn't bother to tell anyone.
Fortunately, five of their next six are against sub .500 teams. Sure, that didn't help them this week, but it's better than having to try and right the ship against the best in the NBA. At this point, any signs of life would be welcome. Also, if they'd like to make a few three's, that wouldn't hurt either.