Don’t look now, but the Houston Rockets are just 1-5 six games into the 2018-19 NBA season. They are tied for the fewest wins in the league with perennial doormat Phoenix, Cleveland, which fired head coach Tyronn Lue already, and Washington. This is pretty much the same Rockets team that won 65 games last season. Is there a problem in Houston?
Stars Out Last year’s NBA Most Valuable Player James Harden has a strained left hamstring. He has missed two games and the crucial last five minutes in a loss to Utah. This weekend, the Rockets face Brooklyn and Chicago and Harden’s status is unknown. When you’re the best player is on the bench, it’s difficult to win games.
Harden isn’t the only one though. Chris Paul missed two games while serving his suspension as a result of the fight with Rajon Rondo in Houston’s only win of the season over the Lakers. Add in James Ennis, the starting small forward, and Nene Hilario and Houston has an injury problem. Ennis has missed four straight with a hamstring injury and Nene has yet to play this season with a calf strain.
No Lights Out A year ago, Houston finished second in scoring behind Golden State averaging over 112 points per game. Currently, the Rockets are 26th in the NBA out of 30 teams averaging 105.8 per game. In Houston’s most recent loss to Portland, the Rockets failed to score 90 points for the second time this season. The loss was ugly, 104-85.
In the first quarter against the Trail Blazers, the Rockets’ defense held Damian Lillard and company to just 19 points. Houston still trailed thanks, in large part, to ice cold perimeter shooting. Houston shot 32.3 percent from the floor including just 23.3 percent from behind the 3-point line. If that wasn’t bad enough, the Rockets shot a dismal 56.5 percent from the free throw line. As a team for the season thus far, Houston shoots 41.2 percent from the floor. That figure is 29th in the league. Only Orlando (41.0 percent) shoots worse.
No Swagger Houston head coach Mike D’Antoni has said that his team has lost its swagger. D’Antoni stated that he knows his team is playing poorly right now and part of it has to do with some defensive miscues. Houston gives up over 116 points per game right now and twice has allowed over 130. D’Antoni believes the Rockets’ issues are fixable and his team will rebind from the difficult start. Defenses can be tweaked and shooting improved. Paul, for example, has shot just 9-for-32 from the floor since returning from the suspension.
The Future The 2018-19 season is still young. Houston still has 76 games remaining which leaves the team very much alive in the postseason race. Harden, Ennis, and Nene will heal and eventually return to the lineup. Shooting will improve. Houston shot over 46 percent as a team last season. Defense will get better. The Rockets were a Top 10 defensive unit last year giving up just 103.9 points a game. Most of all, with a healthy lineup that is shooting well and playing solid defense, the swagger will return to the Houston Rockets.