We’ve long known that in Houston, we have a problem. Ever since Kevin McHale was fired when the Rockets failed to achieve lift-off at the start of a season when they were expected to target a bump from Conference finalists to title contenders.
Instead, they’re now facing the prospect of being the first team ever to fall from reaching the NBA’s Final Four to missing the Playoff inside a single year.
And with only six games left to leap back into the top eight in the West, it’s now or never for Houston to salvage something from this wretched campaign.
Rise or fall, there’s no dispute: the Rockets win the award for this term’s Most Disappointing Team. They were top 12 in offensive and defensive efficiency in 2014-15. They currently sit ninth in the former but 22nd in the latter, exemplified by one Vine after another of James Harden’s statue-like contributions.
But for the purists, the most damning assessment is that they can only be watched behind closed fingers. A lack of chemistry, especially between Harden and Dwight Howard. Discord inside the locker room. Multiple character questions. And a lack of ruthlessness that’s seen them go a miserly 11-18 when leading by 10 points of more.
Their saving grace may be their closing schedule, with three of their final four at home and that stretch featuring meetings with the heading-off-for-the-summer Suns, Lakers, Timberwolves and Kings.
Yet the Utah Jazz, their closest rivals who sit 0.5 games ahead, avoid only the Kings of that quartet and with four wins out of five, they’ve tuned up at just the right time. They’re worth a punt against the T-Wolves on Friday on a handicap of -8.5 or taking under the total points line of 185.5.
As for Houston, there’s little to suggest they’ll ignite on Sunday against the Oklahoma City Thunder, who have continued to grind out victories of late, taking nine wins out of ten, including a 111-107 decision over the Rockets last month.
A similar points tally and margin is in order. Ultimately, OKC has the firepower to overcome its own flaws and drop their old friend Harden deeper into the mire.
Me? I’d rather watch the heart and hustle of the 76ers despite the scrap to avoid becoming the NBA’s worst-ever. Better lose with valour than Houston’s bid to capitulate with nothing to admire.
Best bet: Go over 220.5 total points in Houston-Oklahoma City