After a 65-win season and an impressive playoff performance that involved taking the Golden State Warriors to the brink in the Western Conference Finals, virtually everyone expected the Houston Rockets to be a major player in the NBA world during the 2018-19 season. Granted, expectations did vary to some degree on the heels of a summer that wasn’t exactly inspiring but, when the dust settled, the Rockets opened the campaign with James Harden, Chris Paul, Clint Capela, Eric Gordon and P.J. Tucker on board, seemingly providing a (very) high floor.
Then, disaster struck at the outset, as the Rockets stumbled out of the gates to the tune of a 4-7 record. With good reason, those early struggles were met with small sample size caveats and, on cue, Houston rattled off a five-game winning streak to assuage the doubts. However, things have not-so-quietly deteriorated since then for the Rockets, as Mike D’Antoni’s team is just 2-7 in the last nine games and sporting an unsightly 11-14 record after 25 games.
Most advanced projection systems still forecast the Rockets to make the postseason, largely because of their previous work and the presence of a legitimate superstar in Harden. At the same time, the team hasn’t exactly been “unlucky” to this point, having been outscored for the season as a result of porous defense.
The losses of Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute were always supposed to have a negative effect on Houston’s defense and, well, that has come to fruition. With that said, the downturn on that end of the floor is troubling at the very least, and the Rockets have a jarring lack of depth, prompting the entire NBA world to run trade machine simulations (including buzz surrounding J.R. Smith) designed to provide Houston with even a semblance of quality depth.
At least some of Houston’s issues will be muted if and when Chris Paul awakens from an early-season slump but it is at least worth pointing out that the future Hall of Fame point guard is now 33 years old. It is probably safe to assume that he will improve from a shaky opening segment of the campaign but, with the way the Rockets’ supporting pieces are operating, the team has very little margin for error and time is slipping away.
With more than 50 games remaining, the consensus remains that Houston will turn the ship around and it is easy to make that assumption. At the moment, however, the Rockets are living off their previous reputation and the roster, as constructed, is top-heavy and messy.
What’s on tap for Houston when it comes to this week’s DIME power rankings? Let’s explore.