Houston Rockets to Star In "Trading Places" Remake After Dreadful Homestand

Robert Kleeman@@RobertKleemanSenior Analyst IFebruary 17, 2011

Dread Rising.

One fan's clever play on the Rockets' 2010-2011 slogan became a frank, despairing locker room state of the union address.

She intended the sign as a tribute to Jordan Hill's signature 'locks. The impressive sketch she drew could have passed for the 6'10" forward's photograph on a trading card.

After Wednesday's humiliating 114-105 defeat to the Philadelphia 76ers, you better get used to that "t" word.

The listless Rockets validated a harmless sign's unintentional, unfortunate double meaning. If the players did not feel apprehension before the Sixers defeat, the trepidation will consume them now.

The impression Houston left in its final home game before the trade deadline was not a good one.

Courtney Lee sat out battling pneumonia.

His teammates not named Luis Scola, Kyle Lowry or Patrick Patterson responded to his absence with a sickly effort.

How many fans left with sore throats, nausea, a persistent cough and disillusionment after this one?

The longest homestand of the season became a 1-3 disaster.

What once looked like a winnable stretch of contests against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Dallas Mavericks, Denver Nuggets and Sixers devolved into a week of agony and a confirmation that Daryl Morey should not exclude player in transaction discussions.

Everyone is available, and everyone should be.

The Rockets entered a tailspin at the wrong time. The Nuggets and Utah Jazz are immersed in losing funks. The Grizzlies learned this week that a shoulder injury will sideline Rudy Gay for a month.

Houston beat each of those three playoff challengers in the last three weeks. The numerous letdowns, though, make those victories meaningless.

The Rockets must now unwrap an unenviable present and embrace a harsh reality.

They get three weekdays and an All-Star Weekend to ponder Wednesday's clunker.

They then face a back-to-back against two atrocious foes who have to like their chances now. Why should the Detroit Pistons and Cleveland Cavaliers fear the Rockets?

How can Rick Adelman believe his employees will show up with the proper attitude and intensity when they could not do it in a defining string of home dates.

This was the time to make a move. This was the opportunity to build something in advance of the break. These were the moments to announce a return to postseason contention.

An undefeated home stand would have yielded a .500 record.

Instead, the Rockets established themselves as rodeo clowns fit for the event about to overtake Reliant Stadium. This 26-31 outfit needs an overhaul.

Maybe it will come before Thursday. Maybe Morey will have to wait until the offseason. He knows he needs to do something to shake up an awful product.

These Rockets will soon star in a familiar studio production, though it is difficult to tell Eddie Murphy's character apart from Dan Aykroyd's.

With whom will the castaways be trading places?

I hope fans managed a long look at this roster.

The next time some players visit Toyota Center, they will dress in the other locker room. Anyone, from Scola to Hill to Chase Budinger to Jared Jeffries, is a relocation candidate.

If you think I enjoy publishing this stuff, think again. Writing about these Rockets is as painful as watching them.

As Adelman said two seasons ago of his bunch, "they don't make it easy."

Houston has now dropped six of its last seven games against Philadelphia, but the problematic matchups became irrelevant. Too many other must-win situations have ended like this one.

The Rockets drilled four of their first five three-pointers. They jumped out to a promising 15-4 lead prompting Doug Collins to convene an angry timeout. Lowry hit all five of his triples in the first half.

Yet, the probable outcome always seemed clear. Houston would start clanging its contested perimeter jumpers, and Philadelphia's merciless onslaught would prove too much to overcome.

Indeed, after connecting on seven of their first 15 three-pointers, the Rockets made just two of their final 17 heaves. No one on the Sixers seemed to notice there was another team on the floor.

Not even Shane Battier's hand-in-the-face defensive trick could slow the opponent. Houston's defense was bothersome but not to Philadelphia.

Jrue Holliday, who sank eight of his 11 shots, might have encountered a tougher challenge in a high school gym.Andre Igoudala finished one assist shy of a triple-double.

Houston's performance was so hideous that I almost reneged on my vehemence that Morey should stay away from the inconsistent forward.

Scola dropped 26 points and 13 rebounds. Lowry poured in a season and career-high 36 points. He swished six of his nine triples. Patterson's 10 points and seven rebounds qualified as a revelation.

Everyone else skipped the party, if anyone can call another dreary home defeat that.

Endless trade chatter continues to fill the locker room with unease. This was not the way to subdue it.

The Rockets hit the All-Star break with a thud, five games out of the eighth spot, one defeat closer to the lottery and triviality. Aaron Brooks scored seven points early and fizzled late with a four for 12 dud. Budinger finished a woeful zero for six.

Adelman re-inserted him late in the fourth quarter looking for that elusive reserve spark.

Surprise, surprise, it never came.

How do the Rockets yield 22 fast-break points despite just eight turnovers? The torpescence and defenselessness showed at the worst time.

The Sixers headed to halftime up three, shooting a blistering 61 percent. That is inexcusable.

Nights like Wednesday infuriate Adelman and force Morey to burn up more cell phone minutes. What does it do for the restless fans?

Consider these remarks from the Red Rowdies section:

"Hey, the Cavaliers are 17 seconds away from beating the Lakers."

"Really? What's the Score?"

"It's 101-97, Cavs, 17.1 seconds remaining."

"The Sixers lost twice to the Cavaliers. What a joke."

"But the Sixers are going to the playoffs."

One minute later:

"Hey, did Cleveland win?"

"Yep. 104-99."

"Haha. What a joke."

The Rockets' effort was a joke. I do not recall any laughter after the final buzzer. These discussions happen a lot when Houston loses.

When a Mavericks supporter pranced, preened and flaunted his Dirk Nowitzki jersey after Saturday's defeat, all the Rowdies could do was direct him to the rafters, where the 1994 and 1995 championship banners hang.

Yes, it has come to riding Hakeem Olajuwon's coattails. They cannot ride eight losses to Dallas in the previous 11 tries.

The losses are easier to digest when the squad plays hard. It did not Wednesday night.

Morey will head to Hollywood this weekend but not to watch Blake Griffin assume the slam dunk competition throne. He will engage every other GM in discussions, pining for something, anything that will provide this franchise with a brighter future than one filled with perpetual lottery appearances and inadequacy.

The tension within the roster reached a crescendo Wednesday night, and the verdict after a critical homestand necessitates change. This group, as constructed, is forever destined to tease and disappoint.

Drop another winnable joust against the Lakers. Beat the Jazz at Energy Solutions Arena. Hammer the Nuggets at home. Surrender a combined 226 points in home losses to the Timberwolves and Sixers.

Attendance figures suggest 89 percent of the seats are filled each night at Toyota Center.

No way.

The lower bowl was three-fourths empty at tipoff Wednesday.

No one on the roster can escape the stench of defeat or the dread that accompanies next Thursday's trade deadline. Even Hill, the focus of one fan's creative sign, did not score.

"Wow, the Cavs beat the Lakers?"



It has come to this, leaving Morey no choice but to pull the plug on a 26-31 squad with a bleak outlook and a roster that, in bowing to the Sixers, just took the professionalism out of professional basketball.


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