On Christmas Day, in front of a huge audience, the Rockets played their best game of the year and beat the Spurs. They defended with energy and as a team. On offense, they shared the ball and moved off the ball. They looked like the contender many thought they would be before the season started.
On Saturday they were the troubled Rockets again, leaning on isolation sets and not caring about defense, and they fell to the Pelicans 110-108.
After the game Saturday, Rockets’ coach J.B. Bickerstaff let his team have it when speaking to the media (hat tip Clutch Fans). You can see his the frustration and anger in his eyes above, but if you prefer your coach’s rants written out keep reading:
“We have to solve the core of our issue. There’s a reason why this team is so up-and-down. There’s a reason why when things are really good, things are good, when things are bad, things are bad. So to a man, starting with me, we have to solve the issue.
“Our issue is doing things right because it’s the right thing to do, not because it’s going to get me a bucket, not because it’s going to get me a shot, not because I get the glory. That’s not what this is about. And that’s what our problem is right now.
We play San Antonio last night, we play a wonderful game, we play a beautiful game on both sides of the ball. We come out here tonight, things aren’t easy, things don’t go our way and we turn into the ugly Rockets again. That’s frustrating for me, frustrating for all of us I’m sure, but it’s not treating the game the right way. Over and over again, we’ve disrespected the game. Our priorities need to be clear. And I need to do a better job of playing the people whose priorities are clear.”
The Rockets do play selfishly much of the times, although the bigger issue has been and active disinterest in defense much of the season. When focused on it — as against the Spurs, but too often only the second half of the fourth quarter when trying to come from double-digits down — the Rockets can be a good defensive team. But they have not built good habits, and that defensive energy is sporadic at best.
This game against the Pelicans was a trap game for Houston — if they gave a 48-minute effort against the Spurs, the smart money was they wouldn’t follow it up with another one. They didn’t. That’s why they are a .500 team.
And the coach preaching to them about it will not be enough to change it, just ask Kevin McHale. It’s going to take the team leaders holding everyone accountable — starting with themselves. We’re looking at you, James Harden and Dwight Howard.