Coming off an 0-2 West Coast road trip, the Rockets arrived at the Toyota Center for their home opener with a sense that they needed to seriously recommit themselves to defense. The return of Kyle Lowry and a fresh Yao Ming were sure to help.
But after tonight’s 107-94 loss to the Denver Nuggets, one might be left wondering if Houston’s three-point shooting didn’t make it past the baggage check in Oakland.
Now if you had been told before tonight’s home opener that Chauncey Billups would go 1-8, Carmelo Anthony would be held to a respectable 24 points, the Nuggets collectively would shoot 37% from the floor, and the Rockets would shoot 45% themselves, you probably would have had a positive feeling about the outcome.
Unfortunately for the Rockets, the reality was another loss and another glaring deficiency coming from an unlikely source: three-point shooting. The Rockets shot just 3-19 from downtown (the third coming from Aaron Brooks about 5 minutes too late). On top of that, they were out-muscled in the 4th quarter and scorched by the Denver bench’s one-man wrecking crew: Al Harrington.
That makes two games in a row the Rockets have felt the wrath of a notorious chucker catching fire. Harrington was everywhere, finishing with 28 points on 5-8 from three-point range to go along with 10 boards.
4th Quarter Blues
The Rockets had a slim lead for much of the game until the end of the 3rd quarter when J.R. Smith hit a triple to put the Nuggets up 72-69. You could sense the fans starting to get a little restless in their seats as the 4th quarter commenced and the Rockets started to lay down and play dead for a stretch — an occurrence all too common with this team.
After Courtney Lee hit the team’s second three of the night, giving the Rockets a brief lead at 76-74, Ty Lawson went coast to coast right at Brooks to tie the game. Brad Miller then committed a cardinal sin by stepping on the court while inbounding the ball. Smith made a layup and was fouled and before you could blink an eye, Harrington hit a trey to put Denver up 85-76. The 11-0 run took most of the wind out of the Rockets’ sail.
Maybe this will put in perspective how bad the Rockets were from deep: with just over 10 minutes left in the game, Nenê had hit as many threes as the entire Houston team, thanks to a buzzer-beating triple at the end of the half by Denver’s seven-footer. The Rockets were 1-14 from beyond the arc at that point.
“This team needs to find an identity” is a phrase we’re going to be hearing for a while until they start to play as a more functional, cohesive unit, and with good reason. High turnovers (19 tonight) and poor defense are clear signs of a team still trying to figure itself out. Rick Adelman fiddled with the rotation a bit tonight; Jordan Hill picked up two quick fouls and was back on the bench about as soon as he checked in. Adelman also decided to save Yao Ming for the last stretch, but it became a moot point as the Rockets could not buy a bucket to save their lives over the final five minutes of the game.
Brooks was here
The cat is out of the bag; Aaron Brooks is the guy you’re going to attack if you’re facing the Rockets.
Perhaps still a little skittish from getting burned so often by the hot shooting of the Golden State guards, Brooks picked up two quick fouls by jumping up on his man only to have them blow right past him each time. Brooks had a burst in the 3rd quarter in which he made a couple layups and assisted Luis Scola for a couple of baskets, but other than that he had a dismal night on both ends of the court finishing with 9 points on 3-9 shooting, 5 assists, 3 turnovers before he fouled out. They switched him off Chauncey Billups at one point, opting instead to put Kevin Martin on Billups and stick Brooks on Arron Afflalo. You have to wonder if Brooks’ defensive liabilities and lack of a contract extension point to him being the most likely player to be moved at this year’s deadline.
Lowry takes a spill
Kyle Lowry was active on the glass with 7 rebounds but shot 0-7 from the field. He also ended up crushed under Carmelo Anthony after one particular drive to the basket and had to go to the locker room to get stitches above his eye. Lowry returned to the game, but with Ish Smith on the bench in a suit and Aaron Brooks in foul trouble, you can be sure Rick Adelman was on the cusp of a Maalox Moment there for a second.
Luis Scola: Doin’ Work
You can’t say enough about Luis Scola’s play so far.
The 6-foot-9 forward attacked the basket relentlessly, finishing with 28 points and 10 rebounds. He kept the Rockets in the game during the third quarter by hitting an array of short hook shots and running the floor (as he always does) to get fast break layup opportunities. After three games, the Argentine Russell Brand is now averaging 27.3 points and 14 rebounds.
The Big Fella
There will be criticism, but Yao Ming gave you about what you want from him, save for the final five minutes of the game. The Rockets fed Yao early, giving him the ball in the post four out of their first five possessions. He finished with 14 points, 6 rebounds and 2 blocks in 22 minutes of action and looked pretty good for the most part, hitting a couple of fadeaway jumpers and patented hooks.
Short-term Memory Loss
The 0-3 start is Houston’s first since the Rockets went 0-5 to kick off the Steve Francis era in 1999-2000. After a disappointing first week, the Rockets will have a few days to regroup before they take on Chris Paul and the Southwest Division-leading New Orleans Hornets at home on Wednesday. New Orleans improved to 3-0 after toppling San Antonio tonight, 99-90, and Trevor Ariza will likely have a bone to pick.