The Houston Rockets didn't think the start of their season would go like this. After getting to the doorstep of The Finals last season, the Rockets had hopes for another season as the Western Conference's best team in the regular season and a lengthy playoff run. Those things are still possible for Houston, of course, but their slow start to 2018-19 has -- if nothing else -- delayed that timeline for it.
After last night's 104-85 wire-to-wire loss to the visiting Portland Trail Blazers, the Rockets are 1-5 and tied with the rebuilding Phoenix Suns for the West's worst record. The loss was the Rockets' fourth straight in their second game without James Harden, who is nursing a hamstring injury. Houston has rarely been competitive this season, dropping their four home games by an average of more than 17 points.
Coach Mike D'Antoni told reporters last night he can tell his team has lost much of the mojo that made the 2017-18 special for Houston.
“Last year, we played well. Right now, we’re playing like crap,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said Tuesday night. “We’ll look. We’ll fight it. Not making shots, not making foul shots, not making layups.”
“It’s hard to explain sometimes. We lost our swagger. We’re on our heels. When you’re desperate, it’s good on defense because your hair should be on fire, but it’s bad on offense. Tonight, it was like we were pretty good defensively for most of the game, but offensively, we weren’t calm and didn’t have that poise and just didn’t hit anything for a while.”
The Blazers took a 51-36 lead at halftime and, by early in the third quarter, had built a 20-point lead from which they never really looked back. Overall, the Rockets lacked rhythm on offense and had poor communication on defense, a trait that has marked Houston's play during its slow start to the season. The Rockets have struggled from 3-point range -- a hallmark of their success last season -- and on Tuesday made just 10 of 43 3-pointers and shot 32.3 percent overall.
Guard Chris Paul led Houston with 17 points and nine assists in his second game back after a two-game suspension for his role in a fight with the Los Angeles Lakers. Harden's availability for this weekend's games against the Brooklyn Nets and Chicago Bulls seems in doubt and forward James Ennis has been out three games with a hamstring injury, too. Additionally, center Nene, who hasn't played this season, remains out indefinitely with a strained right calf strain.
"Ain't nobody going to feel sorry for us, know what I mean?" Paul said after the game. "We don't feel sorry for ourselves. We've got to get better."
D'Antoni is was careful not to get too doom-and-gloom after the loss, though, and remains optimistic about Houston turning things around.
"I'll ask the analytical guys, but I think we're still in it mathematically," D'Antoni said. "We'll figure it out, but we've got to play well. The sooner, the better.
"I'm down like everybody else, but I haven't lost my faith. I know we'll get this done. We've just got to get it going."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.