Brand new coach for the visiting Houston Rockets, but same old mess in a 96-84 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday night.
Let’s start with the offense – such as it was.
A few desultory weaves, some high screens, one or two loose double-screens along the baseline — but about two-thirds of their half-court sets wound up with somebody going one-on-one. And 29 of those possessions terminated in three-point shots. Even though only six of these found the mark, the Rockets kept mindlessly firing away.
Most of the ball movement was confined to harmless perimeter passes or drives-and-kicks — although James Harden (five assists) did throw a nifty lob pass to Dwight Howard for a dunk. Only 15 of Houston’s 28 baskets were assisted — that’s 54 percent, compared to the Grizzlies’ 72 percent.
The Rockets’ attempts at moving the ball was severely hampered by various players’ malfeasance in passing, dribbling or catching the rock — hence their 23 turnovers. Harden led the team in this dubious department with six TOs.
As ever, Harden’s crossover moves and power-drives were unstoppable. He scored five of these and was also fouled on several others. Otherwise, he was 1-7 from behind the arc, and 1-2 on two-point-jumpers. The Beard’s 22 points were non-factors.
Howard actually had a somewhat decent game at this end of the court — 4-5, three assists for 12 points. He earnestly attacked the offensive glass, set effective screens and on one sequence ran himself into an easy bucket on a semi-fast break. Howard also scored and/or was fouled on several quick baseline drives. However, he only successfully challenged the massive, muscular defense of Marc Gasol once and saved his aggressive moves for those occasions when he was opposed by the comparatively undersized (6’9”), lightweight (235 pounds) defense of JaMychal Green.
This is one reason why so many NBA insiders consider Howard to be a Mr. Softee.
Jason Terry started at the point, a position that’s never suited him. He was 1-5 with one assist and two TOs. However, one of Terry’s turnovers occurred when Howard had his back to the ball as he leisurely loped to the basket in an early offense sequence — when the resulting on-the-money-pass hit Howard in the shoulder, Terry was held responsible.
The other point guard was Ty Lawson — 2-6 but only 1-4 on his jumpers for eight total points. All of Lawson’s four assists came on kick-out passes.
Despite some loose ball-handling (four TOs), Trevor Ariza was the only Rocket who didn’t fizzle — 7-10 for 19 points.
Overall, Houston’s offense showed no discipline, little teamwork and zero patience. To make matters even worse they were a collective 22-37 from the stripe.
Ah, but their defense was even worse.
Howard had two blocks and four successful shot challenges, but also made numerous slow or nonexistent rotations. Moreover, on four sequences his hands were at his side as Gasol scored four unopposed buckets. Howard also failed to throw a hand up when Mike Conley made a layup in his face.
Also, Howard never — NEVER — showed himself on the money side of the numerous successful hand-off passes that Gasol (11 assists) executed with his backcourt teammates. Nor did Howard get any closer than 10 feet when Gasol caught the ball at the high post and made a variety of timely passes.
Much more often than not, instead of aggressively switching on high screen/rolls, Howard also backed away and let the ball-handler shoot unopposed.
Plus, seven of Howard’s 11 defensive rebounds were grabbed when the Grizzlies were already hustling back in defensive transition and there wasn’t a white jersey in the neighborhood.
No wonder the same NBA insiders believe Howard to be a vastly overrated defensive player. This, despite the writers and broadcasters routinely showering him with various defensive accolades.
Face it, the man who likes to refer to himself as Superman is a loser.
But Howard wasn’t the only Rocket who played shaky defense. Terry, Lawson and Harden were also guilty of either going under screens or not fighting their way through them, gambling for steals and turning their heads. Nor did any of the Rockets — except Ariza — make much of an effort to close out on the Grizzlies’ three-point shots.
Whenever the Grizzlies made skip passes, shooters were wide open because Houston’s weak-side defense was atrocious. And the Rockets’ defensive transitions weren’t any better.
Indeed, Ariza was the only Rocket who played hustling defense. And it was Ariza — not Harden and not Howard — who was Houston’s best performer here.
Unless Pop decides to leave San Antonio, or Phil Jackson comes out of retirement, it won’t matter who coaches this selfish, lazy, dysfunctional roster.