Road Woes Bring Houston Rockets Back Down To Earth

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It has been a season of streaks for the Houston Rockets. After dropping their first three games to start the season 0-3, Houston ripped off six straight—all at home—running their record to 6-3 and putting the league on notice that their doormat years were in the rearview mirror. A road trip against contenders brought three more losses before the team came home to lick its wounds and win two in a row.

Then last week, the Rockets hit the road again, dropping all three. Their record now stands at 8-9, perhaps taking some of the air out of recalibrated expectations in the immediate aftermath of the win streak.

On Tuesday, the Rockets lost to the Dallas Mavericks, 121-115. Then on Wednesday, they took a beating against a defending champion Denver Nuggets team out for revenge after dropping its first two against Houston. Jamal Murray’s return was not as close as the 134-124 final score would indicate with the Nuggets controlling the game for the duration of the match. And on Saturday, Lebron James and Anthony Davis took out their frustrations on the young Rockets, 107-97.

The next week does not get any easier with the Rockets coming home for the second-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday and then going back on the road for yet another face-off with Denver. Wednesday’s affair pits head to head two young big men in Alperen Sengun and Chet Holmgren who should have been starting next to each other had Thunder general manager Sam Presti not dealt Sengun to Houston on draft night for two future draft picks. Instead, they’ll be battling for pecking order amongst the top young centers in the game.

The Comfort of Home

After briefly possessing the top ranked defense in basketball, the recent three game losing streak drops Houston to sixth in defense, with a defensive rating of 110.0. The Rockets have the 20th ranked offense with an offensive rating of 112.6. Houston’s net rating has now dropped to 12th in the league, at +2.6.

The Rockets’ are 8-1 at home and 0-8 on the road thus far this season. At home, the Rockets are shooting 46.9% from the floor while holding opponents to 41.9% shooting. They’re shooting 38.2% on 3s while holding their opponents to 31.0%. The Rockets are averaging 111.9 points while holding their opponents to just 98.6 points per game. And they’re averaging 46.0 rebounds and just 10.4 turnovers, while their opponents are averaging 43.8 rebounds and 12.9 turnovers per game.

On the road, the Rockets are shooting 47.0% from the floor while opponents shoot 47.2%. They’re shooting just 33.3% on 3s while opponents shoot 35.3% from the same distance. The Rockets are averaging 108.0 points while giving up 117.0 points per game. On the road, they’re averaging just 41.5 rebounds but 14.3 turnovers, while their opponents are averaging 44.9 rebounds and just 11.0 turnovers per game.

It’s been a tale of two teams this season for the Rockets, at home and on the road. Probably not surprising at all for such a young team that home cooking has been helpful. If Houston wants to be taken seriously as a viable playoff threat as early as this season, they will need to cobble together some wins on the road. Fortunately for the Rockets, the schedule gets easier after what has been a brutal opening month.

Managing Expectations

While many my find the young Rockets’ inconsistency frustrating, all in all, already, this season has been a smashing success. After three painful losing seasons in phase 1 of the franchise’s rebuilding project, the goal for this season was simply to begin the process of looking like a viable NBA team again and instilling an identity under new head coach Ime Udoka. Instead, Houston has carried one of the stingiest defenses in the league into December and has identified in Sengun the player that should likely be the offensive centerpiece of the team’s next era. Anything else that occurs from this point forward is mere house money. Even hovering around .500 would put Houston at nearly a 20-win improvement over the 2022-2023 season. A massive turnaround if things hold.

Sophomore forward Jabari Smith Jr., last year’s third overall pick, is rounding into form, putting together an extremely impressive month of November after a slow start to the season. And while Jalen Green has had his ups and downs, 20th overall pick Cam Whitmore is back up (for now) from the G League with fourth overall pick Amen Thompson due to return soon from injury. Sengun is the team’s star inside with Smith developing nicely into a complementary role. Will a perimeter star emerge and separate himself from the pack? From a macro team-building perspective, that’s really the next big question for this Rockets team.



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