Houston Rockets' 3-6 Start Lacks Surprises, Portends Familiar Results

Robert Kleeman@@RobertKleemanSenior Analyst IJanuary 11, 2012

CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 10:  Kyle Lowry #7 of the Houston Rockets against the Charlotte Bobcats during their game at Time Warner Cable Arena on January 10, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina.   NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Bleacher Report’s NBA community leader assigned me a piece on “XX Houston Rockets Surprises” this week. I stared at my computer screen for an hour after receiving the message and attempted to fulfill the request.

The absence of productivity would have caused even Jay and Silent Bob to scoff. Dude, do something. In the words of the latter character, “I got nothing.”

The Rockets 3-6 season has played out like a B- action flick with lots of blow up scenes and few surprises. The fans have witnessed more implosions than explosions and a team that looks a lot like the lottery clubs that picked 14th in the previous two drafts.

Houston needed a whammy to kick off the campaign. Beyond Kyle Lowry’s prolific, prodigious start, it delivered a relative whimper.

Lowry averaged 14 points, nine assists and seven rebounds through the first nine games. Anyone shocked by his all-around excellence, though, must have missed what he accomplished last spring.

Then, he averaged similar numbers. In a March 20th victory against the Utah Jazz, he tallied 28 points, 10 assists and 11 rebounds. He dished 18 dimes in a December 2010 win versus the Memphis Grizzlies.

The ascendancy up the point guard ranks should not surprise anyone who watches Lowry for a full season. He demonstrates immeasurable toughness and resolve. His long-distance shooting has also improved by leaps and bounds in the previous two years.

If the above statistics flabbergasted you, pay better attention.

Kevin Martin’s shot has been more erratic than the food quality at Chili’s. His rust should not have blindsided anyone. The lockout messed with a lot of players’ rhythms. Expect more 4-for-15 duds to follow 20-something-point magnum opuses.

I did not publish this to disparage the slideshow assignment. In fact, an abundance of curveballs would mean Houston was on the fast track to either Andre Drummond or that coveted Western Conference playoff spot.

The Rockets need some surprises.

Instead, the team’s disheartening mediocrity reigns.

Less than a week after turning in two of the worst defensive efforts in recent memory, the Rockets stymied the miserable Charlotte Bobcats in a Tuesday clunker. The final score alone—82-70—would indicate considerable defensive amelioration. Charlotte connected on just 34 percent of its shots.

Judging just those numbers, of course, ignores a few important facts. Bobcats Coach Paul Silas chaperones the league’s worst roster, both in terms of overall talent and performance. Lots of units will look like defensive juggernauts when playing against that sad sack collection of support men, raw rookies, castoffs and athletes with wasted potential.

Stopping the Bobcats compares to a rapper having more credibility than Kevin Federline. Or delivering a better dramatic acting performance than Steven Segal.

The Rockets appeared clueless, careless and incompetent last week in trying to stop the L.A. Lakers, Clippers and Oklahoma City Thunder in road defeats. The Clippers and Thunder, in particular, treated their Rockets counterparts like traffic cones. “Lob City” became “Lay-Up City.”

Kevin Durant and company could not have waltzed to the rim with any more ease on a playground.

Lakers center Andrew Bynum unloaded on the undersized Rockets for 21 points and 22 rebounds. The 6’0” Lowry led Houston in rebounding in that competitive affair.

Last season, a 6’6” center was the Rockets’ best defender.

Rock group Daughtry could have written its hit “No Surprise” about this scrappy, inconsistent bunch.

Kevin McHale preached change throughout training camp like a certain high-ranking official did in his presidential campaign four years ago.

A production alteration, though, required personnel developments that continue to elude the franchise’s brass.

Lowry entering the elite point guard conversation was never going to be enough.

GM Daryl Morey needed Terrence Williams, Jordan Hill or one of the other 2009 lottery picks to make a quantum leap.

T-Will impressed in several preseason stints but has not managed to earn consistent daylight since. When he has suited up, he has not been the impactful, versatile forward his draft position suggests he should have become by now.

Hill, for all of his offensive strides, has not established any constancy. Foul trouble remains an issue, as does his maintenance of effort.

It seems reasonable to assume that Morey spent $7.5 million this year on Samuel Dalembert because he felt uncomfortable with a center rotation that consisted of Hill and Hasheem Thabeet.

The team and Dalembert seem at odds as to whether he is in adequate shape to handle a regular load. He says yes.

Morey bemoaned the interior defense in a Thursday morning interview on Houston’s Sports Radio 610. It sure sounded to me like he did not think Dalembert was prepared to log 30 minutes a night.

TV color analyst Matt Bullard said outright that Dalembert is still finding game shape in an interview on the same station.

This is not the gang-up-on-Sam-Dalembert column. I promise.

His incongruity merely confirms that the Rockets did not shift enough this summer to become more than an admirable, overachieving outfit destined to end the season with the last lottery pick.

If this was supposed to be a surprise party, the guest of honor knew about it long before he or she walked through that front door.

The Lakers showed the Rockets what a talented, tall and bulky frontline could do. Kevin Durant showed Houston the value of a superstar on consecutive nights.

The Bobcats offered a reminder that it can get worse.

The Middle, the title of an ABC sitcom, also describes where the Rockets figure to sit in two months.

A new year should mean new musings on Houston’s pro hoops squad.

Instead, I keep writing the same opinions over and over again. How can the praises and criticisms change when the Rockets don’t? I have, at least, mastered the art of repackaging familiar ideas.

Rookie Chandler Parsons dropping 20 points Tuesday night was nice, but it would be unfair to the Florida product to use one game against the woeful Bobcats as a springboard for immediate expectations.

Chase Budinger still hesitates on too many long-distance looks. He does not attack the rim with enough frequency. His defense still often looks flawed and uninspired.

Luis Scola—a member of perhaps the league’s least athletic frontcourt the last two seasons—is as reliable as the Seattle rain on one end and as disastrous as Mitt Romney’s stand-up comedy attempts on the other.

Marcus Morris needs to play a lot – He can do that with the D-League’s Rio Grande Valley Vipers – before Morey and McHale can begin to determine how he fits in Houston.

Goran Dragic provides a dizzying change of pace. He finishes scintillating drives and flies down the court in a hurry. He’s also, at best, a full-time, backup floor general.

Patrick Patterson returned from his D-League assignment last year a better player. He contributed in a number of key victories.

Both a solid citizen and hybrid big, Patterson will carve out an extended career here. Morey did not miss with this guy.

It is important, however, not to confuse an outstanding supporting cast member/vital roster component with a budding star.

The front office still needs to unearth one of those. Durant drove that home Friday and Saturday nights.

You read it here first: The Rockets will eclipse the .500 mark in the next month.

With luck and a continuation of the hustle that defined the team’s previous two contests, Houston will stay in the hunt for its conference’s eighth seed.

I could have typed most of that in late February 2011. This is not a good thing.

Too much stayed the same for anyone to anticipate a dramatic difference in the results.

Morey did not sign Dalembert as a defensive savior. The 6’11” veteran will plug a few holes, offer some shot blocking that has not existed since Yao Ming retired and add a few buckets here and there.

He does not alter how much the Rockets can accomplish. They must win the same way as when Chuck Hayes manned the middle. Morey and McHale are shooting for a playoff berth, just as the GM and Rick Adelman did for two campaigns.

Surprises and the Rockets? I wish.


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