News And Notes: Back To Basics
HOUSTON - Lose eight of nine games and, at least on some level, a crisis of confidence is likely to ensue. That was certainly evident in the aftermath of Wednesday’s defeat at the hands of Denver, both in terms of the looks on the faces of the players and coaches left searching for answers and the words that were used while trying to explain what has transpired to this team over the course of the last two weeks.
The numbers during this rocky nine-game stretch tell a gruesome tale, one of a team that has collectively hit a wall. Houston’s defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) over the course of this slump is 106.6 – a number that would rank the Rockets 27th in the league if it were projected over the course of the season. The club’s offensive rating, however, has experienced a far more dramatic fall from grace. After going through a stretch that saw the Rockets run circles around the competition, blowing opponents out on a routine basis during a remarkable 12-3 run in late December and early January, Houston’s offensive rating over the course of the last nine games has plummeted to 96.8 – a figure that would place the Rockets 29th in the NBA. The team’s turnover rate – high all year – has soared even higher. And the club’s 3-point shooting has fallen off a cliff, with the Rockets hitting less than 33 percent of their attempts from beyond the arc during their slide – yet another number that would rank them near the bottom of the league if projected over the course of a season.
Little wonder, then, that the team’s psyche is feeling a bit battered and bruised right now. With that in mind, head coach Kevin McHale mentioned Wednesday night that it was his responsibility to build the club back up and to help restore the team’s collective confidence. And true to his word, McHale and his coaching staff began that process late Thursday morning by showing the club film from a pair of games back when the Rockets were rolling and looking like a team at the height of its powers. Houston’s players saw themselves at their fast-breaking, up-tempo best, providing a welcome respite and reminder that this team is fully capable of climbing out of this hole and playing winning basketball once again.
“We had to see how we played when we were playing well and we were moving the ball and moving bodies,” said McHale. “We just became very stagnant over the last couple weeks. We can’t play like that. When you play in small places you have too many turnovers and we just showed them film of two games we played where the ball was flying and people were running and we’ve just got to get back to that.
“We’ve shown them plenty of stuff that they’ve done wrong. As a style and how we play, we’ve really fallen off – we’re not pushing it. Sometimes the best thing to do is just see what happened when you did.”
Needless to say, that unexpected programming change was embraced with open arms by the players.
“Actually today it was something really smart from the coaching staff,” said Carlos Delfino. “We talked about our mistakes yesterday but all the video was watching good situations from December and early January. Sometimes you don’t need to just hammer your head about the mistakes, but (instead) show what you did before, the good stuff. You can really learn from your eyes. ‘Okay, we can do this. We’ve been doing this.’ Now we’ve got to translate that to the court.
“I think it was a good move. Sometimes you come to practice after a game like yesterday, you come with your head down waiting to get punched. Thankfully it was more positive and I think the team had a short but great workout and hopefully it helps us to get better.”
Obviously there are a host of issues that must be rectified and resolved for the Rockets to get back on track – transition defense, shutting down the paint, proper spacing, positioning and ball movement when opponents blitz Houston’s pick-and-rolls, etc. – but more than anything it seems as if the primary message flowing forth from the mouths of both coaches and players Thursday was the need for this team to get back to playing the free-flowing brand of basketball that had come to define the club when it was firing on all cylinders.
“We’re not running and pushing the ball,” admitted Jeremy Lin. “We don’t have our bigs and our wings getting to where they need to be. I’m not playing with that same speed and thrust that I was playing with before. We just look like we’re running around in sand right now. That’s what we addressed today. So today we were getting up and down flying – that’s how it’s supposed to be. That’s when we all have fun and we all get going.”
Lastly, the All-Star reserves will be announced tonight on TNT at 6PM CST and it would appear to be all but a mere formality for James Harden to hear his name called when the Western Conference squad is announced. The 23-year-old did not wish to discuss the matter before anything is made official, but it would quite frankly be shocking to see him left off the team given his standing as the league’s 5th leading scorer and the fact that he has been such a huge part of Houston’s push for a playoff spot in the always hotly-contested Western Conference.
“He better get into the game,” said Jeremy Lin, leaving little doubt in either tone or tenor regarding how strongly he believes in Harden’s candidacy. “There is no question in my mind. If he doesn’t get in, that’s just wrong, in my opinion.
“Obviously we’re going through a slump but if you look at our season as a collective whole I would say we’ve surpassed a lot of people’s expectations and I would say he’s a big reason.”