After playing in the Western Conference Finals a year ago, the Houston Rockets have taken a step back this season, sporting a 37-38 record heading into Thursday night.
The year got off to an ominous start with the Rockets losing their first three games and eventually firing head coach Kevin McHale in November after a 4-7 start.
General manager Daryl Morey said Thursday it has not been an easy season for everyone involved with the team, per Calvin Watkins of ESPN.com:
It's been a tough year for everybody, not just me but also [Rockets owner Leslie] Mr. Alexander, the coaches, the players all the way down, the fans. I think that responsibility lies with everyone and it starts with me.
It has been a very tough year in terms of a lot of the things we were hoping [to] take us to the next level, didn't and we also took a step back on top of that, so far. The season is not over but to this point we underperformed from what we did from last season.
The Rockets defense has been significantly worse this season under interim head coach J.B. Bickerstaff, allowing 106.7 points per game after giving up just 100.5 per contest last year during a 50-win season.
Despite the poor play and front office scrutiny, Morey thinks the Rockets can make a deep playoff run, per Watkins.
"Often our results haven't matched our confidence, but we're a confident group going into the end of the season. We feel like we can make a run and make a real impact in the playoffs," he said.
Confidence is great, but the Rockets—in a three-way tie for seventh place in the Western Conference—haven't qualified for the playoffs yet. They could mathematically earn the No. 5 seed, but the No. 7 or No. 8 seed is much more likely. That means Houston would match up with either the Golden State Warriors or the San Antonio Spurs, who have combined for 131 wins this season.
A tweet Morey shared earlier in the week that linked to stats from Ed Kupfer did prove that the Rockets don't give up when they get down:
Having the ability to make comebacks is great and all, but allowing the Spurs or Warriors to grab a 15-point lead doesn't seem like a winning playoff formula.
It's a good sign Morey is confident in his team, which still has 2014-15 MVP candidate James Harden and All-Star center Dwight Howard. However, the statistics, especially the 106-plus points allowed, point to an early exit for the Rockets this year—if they even qualify.