You can hear it on the court when the Rockets are on defense… or more accurately not hear it. The communication that was key to their sixth-ranked defense of a season ago is gone. Silence replaced the chatter.
You can see it when you look at the Rockets’ body language after their opponent makes an inevitable run — heads hang, shoulders slump, and they look defeated. Like a team that doesn’t know what the answer is.
And you can see it in the standings where the Rockets are 13th in the West at 11-13 after a blowout loss to the Jazz. Utah is a team that Houston handled easily in the playoffs last season (4-1) but had no answers for this time around with missed shots and a defense that was picked apart by Utah’s attacking switches and quick ball movement. It’s a game that showed just how far the Rockets have to go to get anywhere near their goals for this season.
Eric Gordon is frustrated. Here is what the former Sixth Man of the Year told Kelly Iko of The Athletic in a story about the Rockets and their locker room.
“I’m just not having fun man,” Gordon told The Athletic. “I’m just not. This sucks. Even the times where I have good games. We’re just not using some guys the right way. Are we gonna make the right sacrifices? Do we have the right attitude?
“Last year was the best year I’ve ever had being a part of a team,” he added. “We just never had a bad moment. If we ever had a bad game as a team, you knew the next game we would blow somebody out. It didn’t matter who it was….
“Look how [the Jazz are] playing, that’s how we used to play. Sharing the ball, getting up and down and attacking. We’re not doing that anymore.”
The Rockets are playing a little slower this season, and while they ran a lot of isolations last year — trying to get James Harden or Chris Paul in a matchup they liked — the ball kept moving. This year it seems to get stuck more often: The Rockets averaged the fewest passes per game of any team in the NBA last season and this season they are averaging eight fewer passes a contest.
Even with that the offense is still good, it’s the defense, where they are 3.7 points per 100 possessions worse, that is the problem. Last season if the Rockets struggled on one side of the ball, the other side could cover up the issue for a night. This season the offense can’t cover for the faltering defense. Carmelo Anthony wasn’t the problem (he wasn’t the solution, either).
Houston hasn’t dug too big a hole to climb out of — this is the West, everyone is beating each other up. Right now the Rockets are just 1.5 games out of the eight seed.
But just making it into the playoffs was not the Rockets’ goal this season, and they are a long way — and maybe a new player or two — from getting anywhere near the heights they hoped to achieve.