Nuggets Race Past Rockets
Houston succumbs to same old bugaboos in 105-95 defeat
HOUSTON - The Rockets turned the ball over too many times, fell behind early, couldn’t consistently generate stops on the defensive end and their transition attack, so potent in the opening half, felt flat in the second. In other words, Wednesday’s 105-95 defeat at the hands of the Denver Nuggets showcased most, if not all, of the same bugaboos that have so severely plagued Houston throughout the entirety of its two-week slump.
There were no easy, simple, quick-fix answers at the ready post-game; if there were, they obviously would have been put to good use already. The Rockets know what they need to do in order to get back on track – better ball movement, decision making and defense – the problem has been and continues to be transforming that knowledge into results.
The simple fact of the matter is that this club has collectively hit a wall. Fatigue, frustration and diminished confidence are now commonplace. The offensive chemistry that had steadily improved over the course of the season’s first two months has now given way to frequent bouts of stagnation. The defense, never a strong point to begin with, shows glimpses of growth now and then but rarely on any sort of consistent basis. And while much of this malaise certainly can be attributed to the inevitable growing pains of a young team that’s lost its way, Houston’s month-long run during the second half of December and early January offers proof that the club is capable of so much more.
“We had a good stretch where the ball really moved and now it's been eight or nine games where the ball has been getting sticky,” said a clearly frustrated head coach Kevin McHale after the game. “We are having a hard time scoring. Our spacing is poor. We have to reinforce who we are. We have to protect the paint better.
“(Denver) got some run-outs when we weren't getting back. It's like it has been for a while with us. It just snowballs with us. We called timeout. We called another one. We're not able to pull ourselves out of those minor tailspins. At one point they went on a 30-to-12 run with six minutes to go in the third (quarter). We made a couple of substitutions and it kind of snowballed from there.”
Indeed, what had been a close game at the midway mark of the third period rapidly devolved into a blowout when the Nuggets began to make Houston pay for its bevy of turnovers and inability to protect the paint. Denver did it all from that point forward; draining 3s, dominating the offensive glass, getting out in transition and parading its way to the free throw line. The Rockets never recovered.
Make no mistake, this is a very good Nuggets team; a club that is quite frankly significantly better than the Rockets are right now. They are deeper and more experienced than Houston and there’s little shame in losing to such a squad. In a vacuum, this loss would hardly register much in the way of shock and horror. It is, of course, the fact that it comes on the heels of such a less than stellar stretch of basketball that makes it stand out. And it is, in many ways, an encapsulation of where this Rockets team is right now and how far they have to go to snap out of this funk.
Again, there are no easy answers. The turnover bug is likely not going away anytime soon – not with turnover prone players like James Harden, Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik (rightfully) earning the majority of playing time – but it must at least be mitigated. Defense, too, is not so simply fixed – go figure, the hallmark of most uber young NBA teams is being turnover prone and poor on D – but also must start showing real, sustained signs of improvement. And offensively, tough questions must be asked by both players and coaches in order to unlock the key to that free-flowing, fast-paced scoring machine that ran roughshod over much of the competition not too long ago.
“We’re going to have to look at everything right now,” said McHale, “but mostly we’ve got to get back to playing solid defense, packing the paint on the defensive end, making some shots and getting out and going. Right now, when we do get out and go, we’re missing layups and when we have guys open we’re throwing it behind them.
“I think right now we are low on confidence. There is no question. You can see it with our guys and we're going to have to pump them up and get them believing again.”
(On the turnovers) “We turn the ball over too much. That's the bottom line and we play in spaces. We're holding the ball now and we're not pushing with the pace that we need to play with. Everybody is kind of holding the ball and the balls not flying around and dinging around right now. That's been going on for a while now. We had a good stretch where the ball really moved and now it's been eight or nine games where the ball has been getting sticky. We are having a hard time scoring. Our spacing is poor. We have to reinforce who we are. We have to protect the paint better. We had a stretch where our defense was really solid, especially in the second quarter when we were able to get out and run, but we don't convert three-on-two's. We're not converting a lot of easy opportunities. We're not good enough not to do that. When we are playing well, we are converting those. We are just having way too many turnovers.
(On transition game ) “We’ve got to get back out and running again. We got to get back spacing. We got to get back playing with pace. We're not doing that right now.”
(On how turnovers affect the defense) “They got out in transition. They (Denver) got some run-outs when we weren't getting back. It's like it has been for a while with us. It just snowballs with us. We called timeout. We called another one. We're not able to pull ourselves out of those minor tailspins. At one point they went on a 30-to-12 run with six minutes to go in the 3rd (quarter). We made a couple of substitutions and it kind of snowballed from there.”
We’re going to have to look at everything right now, but mostly we’ve got to get back to playing solid defense, packing the paint on the defensive end, making some shots and getting out and going. Right now, when we do get out and go, we’re missing layups and when we have guys open we’re throwing it behind them.
(On the team's confidence) “I think right now we are low on confidence. There is no question. You can see it with our guys and we're going to have to pump them up and get them believing again.”
(On his attitude towards his play) “Always try to be aggressive. Try to stay aggressive and take the pressure off of James (Harden) and our other guys. I'm just going out there and trying to play my game.”
(On the turnovers and how frustrating they are) “It's very frustrating. We just have to make easy plays. Bottom line, we have to make easy plays and defend the ball.”
(On what went wrong in the 3rd quarter) “We started turning the ball over. They (Nuggets) got about 25 points off of our turnovers. We didn't get out in transition, small things.”
(On the Rockets not having many transition points in the second half) “Just turning the ball over and them (Nuggets) getting easy points and us having to take the ball out and not getting out and getting defensive stops. All of that factors into each other and it kind of slowed us down.”
(On the loss) “We were okay for 30 minutes but our turnovers caught up to us. Our offense has gotten really stagnant and our spacing has not been good. We kind of just go through the motions. We don't cut hard. We don't do all those little things that we had success with early on and then on the defensive end in one-on-one defense. I got beat a couple of times but it is everybody together just guarding their man and if someone does get beat, you've got to have help.”
(On what went wrong in the second half) “I'm not sure. They (Nuggets) are very aggressive in their pick-and-roll coverages but that shouldn't change the way that we approach it. We still have to stay aggressive and just make the easy play and I think sometimes we went for the home run play and with a team like that, that is athletic and aggressive, it just can't work.”
(On the Rockets being outscored by 14 points in the 3rd quarter) “They (Nuggets) just got a lot of open shots and turnovers to easy buckets. I'm not really sure about offensive rebounds. They (Nuggets) were getting open shots and that really hurt us.”
(On the Rockets issues with spacing in the offense) “I think we need to get wide and we need to run. We need both of our wings to run hard. We need both of our big men and hopefully they can get rebounds, get it to outlets and then we need the point guards to push the ball as fast as they can and just get everybody running. We aren't nearly as effective in transition anymore and part of it is because we are not getting the stops when we want but part of it too is that we are not running the way we used to.”
DENVER NUGGETS COACH GEORGE KARL
(On the third quarter turnaround when Wilson Chandler came in the game) “Wilson has been pretty good for us and that was the most extended minutes we got from him. He is a little better defensive player and he is very alert on his defensive reads. The tempo of the game got faster and faster and he was very good. Ty (Lawson) was good and then Andre (Iguodala) and Corey (Brewer) and then JaVale (McGee) came in and with that crew, they took the game to a 15,16 point lead. Its seldom you ever have an easy win on the road but we cruised into an easy win.”
(On his 1,110th career win) “I’ll probably have a ball signed by the players and put it in my trophy case and drink a few beers someday remembering. I’m at a stage at my career where fortunately I’ve been around and still loved the game and it’s a privilege to coach a good basketball team. The accolades are because of so many other people other than me. I put a lot of losses on my belt so maybe I’ll take a lot of accolades for wins too.”
(On his 10,000th career point in the NBA) “I wasn’t projected to get to this point and it was a dream come true to just play in the NBA. Hopefully, I can continue to help our team and I’m happy to just be here.”
(On the third quarter surge) “When Wilson (Chandler) comes in and he plays the 4 (power forward), it opens up our pick and roll game. Sometimes that’s where we struggle but when he comes in, he changes the complexity of the game. It’s just the little things that don’t show up on the stat sheet but it makes our team successful.”
(On his play) “I really felt a lot of energy today. There was a lot of excitement out there and we were all playing hard and there was a lot of energy coming off the bench and it carried us to a win.”
(On his play) “We just turned up the defensive pressure (in the third quarter) and made them take tough shots and forced some turnovers. I just tried to play hard, play defense and help our team get easy buckets. The biggest thing for me was to just play hard.”
Houston saw the Nuggets run off with a 36-22 scoring advantage in the third quarter on Denver’s way to a 105-95 victory tonight. The Nuggets now own a five-game winning streak (3/2/12-1/23/13) over the Rockets, which includes a victory in each of Denver’s last four visits to Toyota Center.
The Rockets have now faced a double-digit deficit in each of their last 12 games, which includes trailing by as much as 22 points in tonight’s game.
Houston turned the ball over 23 times tonight, which led to 28 points for Denver. The Rockets have now turned the ball over 20 or more times in 11 games this season (record: 3-8).
The Rockets (22) and Nuggets (22) combined for 44 fast-break points tonight. Houston and Denver entered tonight’s game ranked first and second, respectively, in the NBA in points per game off the break.
James Harden recorded a game-high 23 points (8-17 FG, 5-5 FT) and led the team with seven assists tonight. Harden has now dished seven assists in four of his last five games.
Carlos Delfino picked up another 15 points (6-12 FG, 3-8 3FG) off the bench tonight. Delfino has now reached double-figure scoring in a season-high four consecutive games.
Marcus Morris, who came off the bench at Charlotte (1/21/13) with 21 points (7-12 FG, 3-7 3FG) and a career-high-tying eight rebounds, added 10 points (4-9 FG, 2-3 3FG) and five boards tonight.
Patrick Patterson totaled 10 points (4-7 FG) and two steals tonight, reaching double-digit scoring for his first time since netting 15 points at Cleveland (1/5/13).
Omer Asik posted six points (3-5 FG), a game-high 13 rebounds and a season-high-tying three blocks tonight. Asik now owns 26 10-plus rebounding games on the season.
Ty Lawson, who topped six Nuggets in double-digit scoring with 21 points (9-20 FG, 3-4 3FG), eight assists and three steals in the last meeting at Houston (11/7/12), again topped Denver with 21 points (8-15 FG), seven assists and two steals tonight.
Wilson Chandler recorded a season-high 20 points (7-15 FG, 4-5 FT), six boards and three steals tonight. Chandler was one of five Nuggets with exactly six rebounds in the game.
Danilo Gallinari collected 18 points (6-13 FG, 3-5 3FG), six boards and a season-high three blocked shots tonight.
Andre Iguodala finished with 14 points (5-11 FG, 4-5 FT), six rebounds, five assists and three steals tonight. Iguodala also reached 10,000 career points with his first points of the second half tonight.
JaVale McGee also had 14 points (6-7 FG) and three blocks tonight, which marked his 14th game this season with at least three blocked shots.