Hard Lessons And Home Cooking
Rockets hoping to take full advantage of longest homestand of the season
HOUSTON - Kevin McHale takes losing personally and he takes it hard. There is no hiding the toll exacted from every defeat; the pain, agony and anguish are writ large for all to see in bold, capital letters within the bags beneath his eyes. But while those losses most definitely cost him hours of precious sleep, they do nothing to extinguish the fire that burns as brightly as ever; the selfsame flame that drove him to greatness during his Hall of Fame playing career.
It is no surprise, then, that Houston’s head coach was still feeling somewhat ornery nearly 48 hours after a loss that McHale deemed “unacceptable.” Simply put, the Rockets’ defeat Saturday night in Phoenix represented not just an opportunity lost but the continuation of a disturbing recent trend. Over the course of the last few weeks, the Rockets are just 2-5 against teams that possessed sub-.500 records at the time of the contest. Despite those unpleasant speed bumps, Houston still finds itself very much in control of its playoff fate. But it’s nearly impossible to resist imagining how much more entrenched the Rockets would be in their playoff positioning if they’d been able to flip that 2-5 record on its head.
What’s done is done, however. There’s little to be gained by spending time or energy grousing about the past. Instead McHale wants to make sure his team has finally and sufficiently learned from those hard lessons, especially with a seven-game homestand on the horizon, one which begins with a rematch against 22-41 Phoenix and a Friday night date with the 21-39 Timberwolves.
“The homestand means nothing if we don’t play well,” McHale said immediately following Monday’s two-hour long practice. “The homestand means nothing if we play the way we did against Phoenix, or against Washington, or against Milwaukee at home. We gave up 28 points off our turnovers and gave (the Suns) 24 second-chance points. That’s 52 points that they got off of our stuff. That’s unacceptable.
“If you’ve got to be told that, then you’ve got a long way to go to become a professional. Being a professional athlete in this league is taking responsibility, going out there and saying, ‘What didn’t I do well? What have I got to do better?’ and owning it. That’s where we’ve got to grow.”
Houston’s players took that lesson in accountability to heart Monday, especially as it pertained to the club’s lackluster effort on the defensive glass against the Suns. In Omer Asik, the Rockets have the luxury of possessing one of the finest rebounders on the planet; a veritable hoops Hoover of the highest order. Saturday night, however, there were far too many situations that found Asik fighting for missed shots on his own. If he didn’t grab the ball, odds were the Suns did. As good as Asik is, his teammates still have to know that they’ve got to do a better job of helping him out on the glass, and that it will require a total team effort to collect boards whenever their big man is resting on the bench.
“It starts with me,” said Chandler Parsons, who has been on fire as a scorer of late, averaging 23.2 points per game during Houston’s last five contests, but just 2.6 rebounds per game over that same stretch. “I’ve got to do a way better job rebounding. The last couple of games have not been good rebounding. When other teams are getting offensive rebounds, that’s my job, that’s James’ job, Jeremy’s job, because (Asik) can’t get in there and get every single rebound. Those big guys are going to battle down there and block out, so it’s our responsibility to fly in there and grab the rebounds.”
There’s a strong probability that the Rockets will have their rebounding issues resolved in time for Wednesday’s rematch with the Suns. Houston is, after all, ranked No. 3 in the NBA in defensive rebound rate for a reason. So long as they revert back to their glass-cleaning selves, Phoenix figures to be hard-pressed to keep up with the Rockets’ explosive offense over the course of the full 48 minutes. And a win would unquestionably go a long way in removing some of the bad taste left in the mouths of Houston’s players and coaches, and some of the bags beneath McHale’s eyes in particular.
It can’t stop there, of course. With the next seven games at home and nine of the next 10 overall at Toyota Center, Houston has finally arrived at the tastiest portion of its schedule. There will be home dates and practice time aplenty. What’s more, the Rockets have just three back-to-backs remaining the rest of the season; big news given that Houston is just 5-13 on the second night of back-to-backs this year while boasting a 29-17 record in all other situations.
“We can’t blame anybody for anything that happens from here on out,” said Jeremy Lin. “We have no excuses. We have a great schedule so it’s in our hands. That’s what we want so we’re just going to control what we can control. All I know is if we keep winning, if we put together a win streak, then no one will ever catch us.”