3 reasons for the Rockets slow start and why they will turn it around

3 reasons for the Rockets slow start and why they will turn it around
Jeff Bzdelik's sudden retirement has caused the Rockets to make adjustments. Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Tonight the Rockets will take on the Utah Jazz for the first time since ousting them from the playoffs in the second round last season. The Rockets’ chances of winning don't look great, and the possibility of falling to 1-3, maybe even 1-4, to start the season is a very real one. Patience, however, should be exercised before tossing this NBA season’s hopes into the nearest trash bin, as there are a number of correctable issues that have contributed to Houston's sluggish start.

1. Houston's assistant head coach retired a little over a month ago

Jeff Bzdelik is embodying the old adage of not knowing what you had until it's gone. Bzdelik was instrumental in Houston's rejuvenated effort on defense last season and retiring a month before the season started came as a huge blow. Now the Rockets are in catch up mode as the players and Bzdelik's replacement, Roy Rogers, look to play catch up and get up to speed. It's shown in the first three games, as Houston has failed to switched assignments as gracefully as they had last season, in addition to being absolutely pummelled inside the paint. This should simply be a practice and time issue that can be smoothed over. The question is whether it's fixed sooner rather than later.

2) New rosters need time to sync

Houston was forced into a lineup overhaul this offseason with the unexpected departures of forwards Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute. The result was the arrival of five new Rockets, with at least four of them slated for a legitimate share of minutes. A shake up of that size is bound to require a learning curve, and most team's have it figured out by December. That learning curve becomes even longer when my next point becomes an issue.

3) The Rockets are really banged up

The lineups you have seen head coach Mike D'Antoni trot out have been awful, yes. They also were never meant to be part of the plan. It was never the plan to have point guard Michael Carter-Williams start at small forward. No one honestly thinks that P.J. Tucker or Carmelo Anthony should or will continue to rotate in at center, but at the moment they will because they have to. All of these moves are out of necessity because the Rockets are incredibly beat up. Everyone paying attention to sports media at the moment is aware of Chris Paul's brawl-related suspension, but that will be over by Wednesday and barely scratches the surface of the issue.  At the moment, the entire Phoenix Suns trade return of Brandon Knight and Marquese Chriss are sidelined. Knight was a virtual lock for at least 10-15 minutes a game at point guard, but complications from knee rehab have pushed him back to an undisclosed timetable. Chriss meanwhile should return soon from an ankle injury and add relief to Clint Capela and the front court. Veteran center Nene has also been out with a calf injury. Add forward James Ennis III's injury sustained Sunday that will have him sitting a few games and what you end up with is a laughably thin rotation to start the series.

The point is, reinforcements are coming, so hold tight. Patience this season will more than likely be rewarded, but if the Rockets aren't careful they'll be stuck in the unenviable position of playing catch-up in a loaded Western Conference.


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One presumes the Chicken Littles have stopped clucking about the Astros’ season being a goner, or if not gone, on life support. It wasn’t when they were 7-19. It wasn’t when they were 12-24. It certainly isn’t now that they’ve won six straight games and eight of their last nine. Another three or four weeks of inept play could have doomed them, but the worm has turned. A 20-25 record is no cause for celebration, but it has the Astros within four games of first place. Yes, getting to play the A’s four times this week helped. And?

I detailed the schedule issue on our Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast this week. The Astros were flat lousy for the season’s first six weeks. But… Starting the week the Astros had played a whopping 32 of their 40 games against teams with a winning record as of Monday. The Seattle Mariners had played 23 such games, the Texas Rangers only 16. The Philadelphia Phillies have been sensational so far and are fully legit. But… The Phillies entered the weekend having played three games vs. teams now sporting a winning record. Three! Out of 45 games. Going into this weekend's series only the Blue Jays, White Sox, and Angels had played more games against winning teams than had the Astros. It’s not mere coincidence that the Blue Jays, White Sox, and Angels are the three last place teams in the American League. The Astros were not up to the challenge of their first quarter schedule, but by no means did it render them dead, particularly in the thus far Mild, Mild, American League West.

A good Brewers team visits Minute Maid Park for three games this weekend. The Astros beat their best starter Friday night. Next the Astros get the pathetic Angels here for three before a three-game series at Oakland. Meanwhile the West leading Mariners start a ten-game road trip this weekend: three at the excellent Orioles, four at the excellent Yankees, three at the respectable Nationals. The Astros stand a good chance of overtaking the M’s by the end of this month if they can win the four-game series they open Memorial Day in Seattle.

Meanwhile, the Texas Rangers snapped a five game losing streak Wednesday to eke back over .500 at 23-22. The reigning World Series champs hope to get somewhat well vs. the Angels in Arlington this weekend but dropped the series opener to drop back to .500. For their sake they better because the Rangers then hit the road for Philadelphia and Minnesota.

Naturally, many Astros fans are upset with Ronel Blanco serving a 10 game suspension for illegally using whatever substance on his glove and non-pitching hand. The suspension is basically automatic. The suspension is also not a big problem. Blanco has been fantastic since getting a starting rotation spot only because of Justin Verlander’s delayed start to his season. It’s said that all life owes us is opportunity. Man, did Blanco seize his. With just seven big league starts to his name before entering this season as a 30-year old, Blanco has made eight this season with a sparkling 2.09 earned run average. So, what’s that about the suspension is not a big problem?

Blanco will miss one start and have another pushed back a day or two. That’s just not a big deal. In fact it may be helpful in the bigger picture. With last year being the first time in his professional career that Blanco topped 100 innings pitched (125 1/3), the Astros need to be wary of Blanco’s workload which is on pace to blow past last year’s career-high innings total. J.P. France probably pitched over his head for a while last year, but went well past his prior career-high innings total and faded badly. Cristian Javier was tremendous in 2022 while pitching more than in any previous year, but he pitched even more in 2023 and faded badly.

Alex Bregman lives! After being nearly inconceivably inept through the first quarter of the season, the Alex awakening in the Oakland series was not shocking but most welcomed. Over his first 37 games Bregman had a paltry seven extra base hits. Even with a feeble .201 batting average and .534 OPS, that Bregman had scored just eight runs over those 37 games was hard to believe. Then Monday and Tuesday saw five extra base hits and four runs scored.

In a trade not commanding any headlines, Dana Brown Wednesday sent outfielder Corey Julks to the White Sox for 20-year-old low minor league pitcher Luis Rodriguez. There is now no reason to call it a great Astros trade but Brown made a smart deal. Julks had no future here, hence he would have been released if no deal was struck. Taking a flyer on a young arm can’t hurt. Frankly, the White Sox are dumb to trade a young arm of any promise whatsoever for a 28-year-old outfielder with limited value. Julks was a nice story for parts of last season. The Clear Brook High School grad and UH product had a couple windows of production, highlighted by a sizzling nine game 17 for 34 stretch straddling June and July. Alas, not two weeks later Julks began what would become an 0 for 36 nightmare. He was sent to the minors for good in late-August.

*Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week generally goes up Monday afternoon (second part released Tuesday) via The SportsMap HOU YouTube channel or listen to episodes in their entirety at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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