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Let's Get Better

Rockets' rallying cry rings truer than ever in wake of disappointing loss to L.A. Clippers

LOS ANGELES - Let’s get better.

That’s the constant refrain emanating from the mouth of Patrick Beverley every time he sets foot on the Rockets’ team bus to head to practice, shootaround or games. It is a rallying cry of sorts, a reminder that no matter how he and his teammates may have fared and may be feeling after the previous game – win or lose, high or low – there is always more work to be done.

Those three words always resonate in some form or fashion, but they should be particularly affecting in the wake of Houston’s 101-93 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers Wednesday night. The Rockets came into the contest riding the highest of highs, having won 10 of their previous 11 games while sporting the league’s best record since the calendar flipped to 2014. Then came the turnovers. And poor transition D. And the second chance scoring. And all the myriad missed layups.

Let’s get better, indeed.

In the aftermath of Wednesday’s disappointment, there will be no need to convince anyone on the team that improvement is needed, no matter how many observers around the country have started to recognize Houston’s credentials as a legit title contender. February has been good to the Rockets, but a third consecutive loss to the Clippers offered a sobering reminder that they are not yet where they need to be.

The good news: even at their most ebullient, no one associated with the team ever believed they were. Houston’s players have made obvious strides both individually and as a team since the season began, but bugaboos like defensive rebounding and turnovers still stick out like a sore thumb from time to time, just as they did Wednesday night. Yes, the Rockets are better than they were in November, but plateauing at this point does them no good. The goal is to be better still in March and then to peak in April, May and hopefully June.

It’s an ambitious plan, but ambition doesn’t exactly get checked at the door when chasing championships. It is part and parcel of the process of both daring to dream big and doing the dirty work necessary to make those dreams a reality. The endeavor isn’t easy and it inherently comes with more than its fair share of risk and adversity. Pleasure and pain are a package deal on this ride, and if the latter doesn’t tickle your fancy, it’s probably best you purchase a ticket for transport that’s a bit safer – like a Segway, perhaps. The Rockets made the decision long ago that sort of humdrum experience was not for them. So here they are, licking their wounds, ready to regroup and to return to the serious business of winning.

In the post-game locker room Wednesday night, no one seemed terribly interested in discussing the positives of a road trip that saw Houston claim three victories in five games. All they could see was that with 10 minutes left to go, they were knotted up with a golden opportunity to steal a win from a team that has given them fits for three straight seasons. Focusing on the bright side of life after the fact was not something the Rockets were keen to do. Their head coach was grumpy, Chandler Parsons was sick, and just about everyone else was weary after spending 10 days on the road.

None of that, however, diminishes what this team has accomplished over the last two months and the very real steps it has taken toward becoming the kind of team is ultimately hopes to be. Since January 1, Houston owns the league’s fourth-best offense, sixth-best D and sits second overall in net rating behind the same nemesis that knocked them off Wednesday night. The Rockets are healthier than they’ve been all season. Dwight Howard and James Harden are clicking better than ever. And newcomer Jordan Hamilton is rapidly looking like a perfect fit as a potential 3-and-D guy off of Houston’s bench. One loss in late February, then, no matter how much it may momentarily sting, can come anywhere close to completely diminishing all the good vibes the Rockets have generated of late.

Thursday provides a much-needed day off as the team travels back to Houston. On Friday the practice court beckons. Film will be watched. Schematic principles and points of emphasis will be discussed, dissected and rehearsed until they are eventually mastered. And then the toughest two-week stretch of the Rockets’ schedule will commence. They’ll play Miami twice in addition to dates against Portland, Indiana, Chicago and OKC.

The gauntlet is coming. The next big challenge awaits. But the message remains the same as it ever was. ‘Let’s get better,’ a voice will say. And win or lose, high or low, the Rockets must take it to heart.