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Growing Pains And The Long, Slow Search For Chemistry

HOUSTON - “There’s no hit the fast forward button here,” said the star player of a 2-2 team Wednesday night while attempting to explain how finding chemistry on the basketball court can be a tricky, finicky and frequently time-consuming ordeal. As much as we might wish there were, there’s simply no shortcut to this process. It is a painstaking affair that is often an exercise in patience. And unless you have a DeLorean hardwired with a flux capacitor handy, there’s simply no way to skip the inevitable growing pains along the way.

So which Rockets player delivered that particular quote? James Harden? Jeremy Lin? No on both counts. In fact, it didn’t originate from the Rockets’ locker room at all. That line comes courtesy of Boston Celtics’ superstar Kevin Garnett, who was doing his best to explain how his team just barely managed to beat the woeful Washington Wizards Wednesday night, in Boston no less, nudging the Celtics’ overall record to 2-2 in the process – hardly the start expected from a team coming off a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals and after an offseason during which, by all accounts, Boston strengthened its already-impressive squad.

Hopefully you see where I’m going with this. If the Celtics, with their incredible, experienced and veteran core of KG, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo are still struggling to hit their groove, why on earth should we be surprised that the Rockets, owners of the youngest roster in the NBA and a team that has been together in its current incarnation all of 10 days, are experiencing some sputtering of their own as they endeavor upon their journey to find chemistry and an identity to call their own?

The easy answer: We shouldn’t be.

The truth is that something along the lines of Wednesday’s disappointing 93-87 defeat at the hands of the Denver Nuggets was always inevitable – yes, even when the Rockets were busy launching into the NBA stratosphere with that turbocharged 2-0 start to the season. Whereas those first two games saw a free-flowing Houston side, the most recent two have borne witness to too many periods of stagnation on offense and miscommunication on D. An industrial sized tourniquet is needed to stop the endless stream of turnovers. And outside of Carlos Delfino, nobody on the Rockets’ roster is connecting from beyond the arc with any sort of consistency.

The end result is frustrating and occasionally painful to watch. The solution – more hard work, repetition and patience – is an answer nobody ever wants to hear. But those in search of a quick fix are bound to be disappointed. Over the course of the last week fans have now seen both ends of the spectrum – that’s not unusual nor should it be terribly surprising. In fact, the best thing to do at this point is to just take a deep breath, relax and enjoy the roller coaster. Plenty more ups are on the way. And yes, this likely won’t be the last time we’re left to digest an ugly defeat either. 

“To me, it just seems like we’re kind of stuck in the mud right now in terms of how the game feels,” said Rockets head Coach Kevin McHale after the game. “We’ve got to clean some stuff up. It’s very frustrating to sit there and watch because I know how we want to play and what we have to do but right now we’re just not doing it.

“One thing I know about these guys is they’re a good group of young men; I really like them a lot. They don’t want to play bad; they want to play good. Right now we’re in a little bit of a funk and, like I said, the game right now feels hard. It doesn’t feel like it’s just flowing and rolling. Right now it’s just a young group of guys that haven’t played a lot of basketball together.”

Only time together – and lots of it – can fix that particular issue. The good news is that the Rockets appear more than willing to put in whatever work they can in an effort to at least expedite the process somewhat. That much was apparent when Chandler Parsons and Jeremy Lin eschewed their post-game showers in order to hit the practice court for more shooting practice immediately following Wednesday’s game.  

That sort of dedication can indeed make a difference. But there’s simply no substitute for time. That’s a lesson that rings just as true for the Rockets as it does for KG and the Celtics. The journey to get to the desired destination always promises to include some bumps along the way. Might as well try to enjoy the ride.

QUOTES

KEVIN MCHALE

Right now we’re in a little bit of a funk. These last two games we haven’t had ball movement, we haven’t had body movement, we’re not cutting, the ball’s sticky – just a lot of stuff that we’ve got to correct. The bottom line is we have to correct it.

We’ve got to get better flow. Then defensively we just can’t have the breakdowns we’ve had. We need more repetition but we’ve got to be more diligent in our work. Right now we’re just not as diligent as we need to be running our offense. We’re trying to take a short cut here or a short cut there and we can’t. For the second game in a row at home I just thought we were flat for moments in that game.

We’re just having a really hard time getting the motor going where we can roll off some points in a row. We’ll have a nice little roll going and then all of a sudden we’ll go turnover, turnover, missed layup. To me, it just seems like we’re kind of stuck in the mud right now in terms of how the game feels. We’ve got to clean some stuff up. It’s very frustrating to sit there and watch because I know how we want to play and what we have to do but right now we’re just not doing it.

One thing I know about these guys is they’re a good group of young men; I really like them a lot. They don’t want to play bad; they want to play good. Right now we’re in a little bit of a funk and, like I said, the game right now feels hard. It doesn’t feel like it’s just flowing and rolling. Right now it’s just a young group of guys that haven’t played a lot of basketball together … We’ve got to establish our identity; we have to be a pace team.

JAMES HARDEN

Even though we didn’t play well, it’s still just our fourth game together. As the games go on, we’ll get better it’s just the fact we haven’t played together; we didn’t have a training camp or have time to really put in some sets so we’re kind of just figuring things out as we go.

PATRICK PATTERSON

All in all, it was just a letdown on our part offensively and defensively. Offensively, we didn’t get open looks and share the ball well enough like we normally do or knock down shots. Defensively, we had miscommunication, gave up too many easy baskets. They got to the paint too easily in my opinion. Just more things we need to work on.

JEREMY LIN

We need to play together a little longer and a little more movement. I haven’t wrapped my head around it, obviously a lot of the burden goes on me being the point guard. It’s something where we have to go back to the film and see where we did score and see what those possessions looked like. I think our passing and cutting through, playing off the big men, getting pick-and-rolls into weak-side swings, hitting the open guy in close-out situations, I think those are all positive for us. It’s one of those things that when it came to those first two games we did a great job of moving the ball and now the defenses are adjusting so it’s kind of back to the drawing board.

DENVER NUGGETS COACH GEORGE KARL

(On the game) “Where we are at as a team a win is really good for us. The first half I thought we really played well. I thought the first half was the best we played this year. The third quarter obviously wasn’t. Obviously we aren’t polished yet.”

(On Faried’s play) “I felt the whole game that Kenneth had the spirit that he was going to win this game. He was really incredible. He blocked shots had offensive rebounds and he was probably the difference in the game. Iguodala’s defense was very big.”

(On defending Harden) Iguodala is very good. We wanted to put two defenders on Harden and try to never give him gaps. Early in the game he had some fast break opportunities and we were able to get some turnovers. I thought Kenneth(Faried) was very aware of where he was at all times. We just wanted to put two guys on him at all times.”

COREY BREWER

(On his play) “We have to come off the bench and be ready to play. When our bench plays well usually our team does too. I knew when I came in I knew I had to pick it up for our team. I had to come in and give us a spark. I made some easy baskets and we got a win. This win is going to help us a lot as tough games make you get ready. We knew Houston would make a run but we got a win and that’s what it’s all about.”

KENNETH FARIED

(On defending Harden) “We decided as a team that we were going to take the ball out of Harden’s hands. It was an overall team effort defending him. Overall we did a good job staying in front of him.”

(On the win) “It was fun playing out there. The back to back’s really don’t worry me as I’m still very young. Everybody keeps talking about playing back to backs but it really doesn’t bother me right but maybe sometime it will.”

ANDRE IGUODALA

(On James Harden) “He is such an explosive scorer. The way he attacks and you really have to be alert at all at times. The biggest thing is that we have to be proactive and not reactive to what he’s about to do. He is very good on the pick and roll and we adjusted on that tonight but overall it was a very good team effort. I talked with him a little bit before the game. I congratulated him was the main thing as he put himself in a position where he can take care of his family. He’s going to have tough task to where he is going to be the main man. He’ll do fine.’’

(On the win) It was a good win for us. We still have a long way to go. It was good that were getting some wins right now. The road win was good for our psyche but we have to continue to get better.”

NOTES

Houston fell 93-87 to Denver tonight, giving the Nuggets a four-game winning streak over the Rockets (3/2/12-11/7/12). It is the first time Houston has dropped the first two games at home since 2010-11, which included a 107-94 loss to the Nuggets (10/30/10).

The Rockets went 34-of-96 (.354) from the field vs. Portland (11/3/12) and just 31-of-84 (.369) from the field tonight. The last time Houston made .399 or less from the floor in consecutive games was .387 (29-75 FG) from the field vs. Toronto (2/28/12) and.390 (32-82 FG) at Utah (2/29/12).

Denver recorded a 49-43 rebounding edge tonight. It was the first time Houston has lost the battle of the boards this season.

Houston nabbed a season-high 15 steals tonight. It was the first time the Rockets have had at least 15 steals in a game since a 20-theft night back in 2006-07 vs. Charlotte (2/10/07).

Carlos Delfino, who had a 20-point game (7-15 FG, 4-9 3FG) in the preseason at New Orleans (10/24/12), led the Rockets with 19 points (6-14 FG, 4-10 3FG, 3-4 FT) off the bench tonight.

Omer Asik, who took four stitches to the side of his left eye tonight, finished with 10 points (4-11 FG) and 13 boards. It marked his third consecutive 10-plus rebound game and the second double-double of his career. He actual had a double-double by halftime of tonight’s game with 10 points (4-10 FG) and 10 boards over the first two quarters. Asik came into this game off a career-best 19 rebounds at Atlanta (11/2/12) and 15 boards vs. Portland (11/3/12). His first career double-double was 11 points and a then-career-high 16 rebounds with Chicago at New Jersey (3/17/11).

Patrick Patterson has now reached double-digit scoring in each of his last two games, including his 18 points (8-13 FG) and five boards tonight.

James Harden recorded 15 points (5-15 FG) and matched his career high with five steals tonight. Harden originally set his career best with five thefts at Sacramento (2/12/11).

Jeremy Lin also set a career high with six steals tonight. Lin set his previous career best with five thefts in a 104-97 victory last season vs. Dallas (2/19/12). Overall, tonight marked Lin’s third game this season with at least three steals. Jeremy Lin (4) and Harden (4) also teamed up for eight thefts in the season opener at Detroit (10/31/12).

Ty Lawson topped six Nuggets in double-digit scoring with 21 points (9-20 FG, 3-4 3FG), eight assists and three steals tonight. Lawson also led seven Nuggets in double-figure scoring with 22 points (6-15 FG, 9-12 FT), 15 assists and seven boards last year at Houston (3/2/12).

Kenneth Faried posted 16 points (7-14 FG) and 16 boards (9 offensive) tonight. It marked the third time in his career to register at least 16 points and 16 rebounds in a single game.

Danilo Gallinari registered his first double-double of the season with 13 points (6-15 FG) and 10 rebounds tonight.