Struggling Rockets host Trail Blazers
HOUSTON — At this point, there are no easy solutions for the Rockets, whose protracted struggles this season were once a surprise but have methodically come to define this team.
The Rockets (11-14) have revealed themselves to be flawed on multiple fronts. Their defense is ranked 25th in points allowed per 100 possessions (112.2). An inability to keep opponents from dominating the offensive glass has played a role in that vulnerability, with Houston ranking 29th in defensive rebounding rate (68.5 percent) and ahead of only the Washington Wizards.
Their bench, dead last in the NBA in scoring (28.2 points per game), has taken its share of the blame, but there is plenty to go around among the starters. With the Rockets set to host the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday at Toyota Center, what resonates is something must change.
“We can’t obviously continue to lose,” said Rockets guard Chris Paul, whose field goal percentage (43.1) is his lowest since his rookie season. “We’ve got to win games.
“One of my old coaches used to always say, ‘winning is hard.’ We’ve got to keep playing.”
The Rockets have dropped seven of nine games. While their defense is often the culprit, the Rockets collapsed offensively in critical stretches during their winless three-game road trip.
Last Monday at Minnesota, they tallied nine points in the fourth quarter. They followed that with an 11-point third quarter at Utah three days later. And, after clawing ahead in the fourth quarter at Dallas, the Rockets surrendered 11 consecutive points to Mavericks rookie Luka Doncic en route to a third consecutive defeat. For all of their bravado regarding fixing what ails them, the Rockets have yet to do so. At this stage, their words continue to ring hollow.
“Like anything else, like myself and them, we’re upset about it,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “You don’t sleep well and you’re trying to search for answers and they’re doing the same thing. Now, nobody’s confidence is shaken and it’s not like they’re a woe-is-me kind of attitude. They’re just even more determined to get this thing done.”
The Trail Blazers (15-11) appear to have steered out of a recent tailspin, claiming consecutive home victories after dropping six of seven games. Still, Portland has suffered four consecutive road losses; its 104-85 win in Houston on Oct. 30 came with Rockets guard James Harden sidelined.
Portland opened the season appearing reborn defensively but has slid to the middle of the pack in recent weeks. The Trail Blazers remain in pursuit of an identity beyond their high-scoring backcourt tandem of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, something that expands upon their rebounding prowess and free-throw proficiency. A return to superior defense is a start.
“We saw at the start of the season that we can be a lot better than that,” Portland center Jusuf Nurkic said. “And when we play defense and play with an edge, we’re a pretty good team.
“After we have a really good stretch we had a bad stretch so we need to live game by game. We know we’re going to be in the playoffs but we need to live with that (mentality).”