This early in the season it’s easy to say anything you think you see is just a case of “small sample size theater.” Some teams that looked bad can turn it around — Memphis on Tuesday seemed like maybe they can. Houston may be a different story. In case you were engrossed in college basketball tipping off, here are five things you missed from the NBA Monday night.
1) Houston is a terrible basketball team right now, and it may not be getting better. Trevor Ariza all but called his team soft Monday, saying that the Houston Rockets simply do not play hard enough — then the team went out and proved his point. Houston played well in the first half and was up by two on Boston at the break (thanks to a nifty Ariza layup at the buzzer), but the Rockets came out flat in the third and were just steamrolled into another loss. In the third the Rockets were outscored 32-13, shot 5-of-17, had seven turnovers, gave up six offensive rebounds, and simply were out hustled at every turn. Boston ended the quarter on a 15-0 run and never looked back (winning 111-95).
It’s easy 11 games into the season to dismiss some problems as the result of small sample size — but you can’t do that with Houston any longer, the issues are serious. And beyond just a “flip the switch” mentality. The 4-7 Rockets possess the second worst defense in the NBA this season (they were sixth in the NBA defensively last season when they won 56 games and went to the Western Conference Finals). They are getting outscored by 8 points per 100 possessions on the season so far. James Harden is playing at a slower speed than last season (he hasn’t been nearly as explosive getting to the rim), Dwight Howard does not look like the guy who had the strong playoff performance, Ty Lawson seems slow and is not making his expected contributions (he’s shooting 31 percent on the season and struggling from three), they have been awful at the power forward position, and worst of all Ariza is right — this team just is getting out hustled nightly. There are real locker room/chemistry questions. These are the kind of thing that gets a coach fired, and already Kevin McHale is talking about tweaking his starting backcourt of Lawson and Harden to find some chemistry somewhere (Patrick Beverley is out with a sprained ankle). Maybe getting Donatas Motiejunas back from injury will help at the four, but the issues are bigger than that. This is simply a poor basketball team right now.
And looming over it all — Dwight Howard is a free agent next summer and could just bolt.
2) Memphis plays its best game of season wearing awesome ABA throwbacks. Coincidence? I think not. I loved the throwback Memphis Sounds jerseys:
Wearing them the Grizzlies hit 12-of-17 from three and put up 122 points in beating the Thunder. Sure, you could say the poor Thunder defense this season played a role. Or that there will be nights when even the worst shooting teams can knock down shots. Or that Mario Chalmers has been key to turning their offense around (he had 29 points on 13 shots off the bench). Or that you know it’s your night when Marc Gasol is hitting this shot:
But we all know the truth — it was the uniforms.
3)Brandon Knight just abused Marcelo Huertas, spun him all the way around. I feel sorry for Huertas, who used to give Team USA some trouble as the point guard for Brazil, a guy who had a superb career in Europe, only to decide at age 32 to give the NBA a shot — he’s not up to defending at this level anymore. And the result are things like this.
4) Jabari Parker injured again. At least it’s not serious this time, a sprain of his right foot, but he’s not with the Bucks on their current three-game road trip. He was clear and away the best rookie last season until he blew out his ACL and missed the last 57 games, and recovery from that injury bled over to the first four games of this season. He’d been back for five games, looked a little rusty but was finding a groove (he had his best game in the win over Cleveland Saturday), and now this. There is no surgery needed, just a little time off. Still, come on basketball gods, give the kid a chance. Let him stay on the court.
5) Jimmy Butler blocks Paul George to save Bulls win. Paul George had another monster game — 26 points on 20 shots — and with the Pacers down one 96-95 and inbounding the ball with 5.1 seconds left, you know who was going to get the last shot. That’s where Butler made the defensive play of the night.
George — and a lot of Pacers’ fans in my Twitter timeline — wanted the foul on that call, but no way you’re going to get that fading away on a contested shot with the game on the line. Any contact Rose made with George was incidental to the shot — even Pacers’ coach Frank Vogel said so after the game. That was just great defense to save a win.
Also in this game, Derrick Rose had to leave with a little over two minutes left due to a sprained ankle, and he did not return. However, Rose said after the game it was nothing serious, and he should be back soon.