Gut check time

"It's just one game", but the Rockets need it

Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Mike D'Antoni came out to speak with media at 11:51 a.m. on Friday, over thirty minutes after he was scheduled to do so before the Rockets' practiced. The team typically watches film and goes over things before speaking to the media and it's not uncommon for D'Antoni to arrive a little after his scheduled scrum. However, much like after Houston's loss to the Trail Blazers, this was an unusually long amount of time for the team to congregate.

"You got something to do?" D'Antoni joked to Houston Chronicle reporter Jonathan Feigen who asked the natural question. "We had a lot to cover, yes."

The Rockets have lost 3 out of their last 4 games and 2 of those losses have come against teams with an under .500 record. They've been a -2.9 per 100 possessions (18th in the league) in that span. To say that they've been spiraling as of late would be an understatement.

"I'm not a big believer in [team meetings]," said D'Antoni. "We just got to play hard, go at it, and attack them. We've just been a little lackluster in the last few outings and we have to get away from it."

While the Rockets have been careful to avoid the phrase 'team meeting' over the past few days, they've had their share of them. After they lost to Portland, Russell Westbrook led a spirited discussion post-game and before practice in the film room they had another long discussion.

Nonetheless, the Rockets have some real problems that need sorting. Teams go through rough spells and adversity, but for Houston to get where they want to be, they need to establish a certain level of consistency that they just haven't exhibited yet. Through the doldrums of an NBA regular season, it's hard to gather the motivation to be this consistent. Fortunately for Houston, a high-profile victory against the Los Angeles Lakers can theoretically jump start things for them.

"I mean, it's a big game," admitted D'Antoni. "It'll all mean a lot. It's an early test and we'll see if we can pass it. Does it mean more than anything else? Not really, not in the scheme of things. You got to take it into perspective."

Teams rarely admit that high-profile, national TV matchups like this mean more to them than any other game, but it's only natural that they do. Players and coaches have to admit that this game doesn't mean any more than the other 81 even though neither fans nor media ever buy charade.

"It's just one game," said Harden predictably.

The Lakers in particular have proven that they are the true best team in the Western Conference (33-8 with a +8.0 net rating) through the halfway point of the season. Their length also provide an interesting challenge for the Rockets - a team that's been undersized since the season tipped off in October. Houston will try and counter this by playing a traditional big on the floor at all times, never going small as their known to do.

Houston will carry on with the lineup that they've rolled out the past few games, starting Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Ben McLemore, P.J. Tucker, and Clint Capela. Against the Lakers, the interesting question here becomes, who guards the other big?

According to D'Antoni, that'll be James Harden. Harden guarding bigs isn't new for the Rockets as they've had to resort to it before, but it's come mostly for spurts. Against the Lakers, Harden will be defending a big for the entirety of the game. Tucker will continue with his expected assignment of guarding LeBron James and shadowing all of his minutes.

It's the first time both of these teams in their current iterations will face each other so there are a lot of fascinating subplots here. Teams with this kind of length have historically decided to funnel Harden to their rim protector. The current Bucks and Jazz are great examples of this. Harden's been in a bit of a funk lately and having to drive through Danny Green only to have to meet Anthony Davis at the rim is a tough ask, but he's up for it.

"I'm assuming their rim protection is really great," said Harden. "They do a good job of contesting shots with their length and they have some pretty good guards that are guarding."

Clint Capela has relished the opportunity to go up against Joel Embiid, Rudy Gobert, and other great centers in the past, but he doesn't view this matchup the same way..

"It's different," said Capela. "Tomorrow it's more about the whole team that I'm excited about [facing]."

Regular season basketball games don't carry the same kind of weight as they do in a sport like football, but this matchup will certainly tell us a lot about the state of the team.

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Jovan Abernathy is an international marathoner and blogger. Check out her new blog, HTown Run Tourist. Follow her on Twitter @jovanabernathy. Instagram @HTownRunTourist. Facebook @jovanabernathy. Join her facebook group: H-Town Run Tourist

Six years ago, I got this great idea to become a tourist of Houston on foot. I had no idea what I was doing or where it was going. All I knew was to put on my running shoes, walk out the door, and just go. Go learn, go talk, go ask without judgements. What I found is that Houston was full of diversity. We all knew that. However, let yourself be immersed in it. Look and listen to the sounds of different languages being spoken around you. Smell the scents of the different cuisines. You would think you were in a foreign country. This made me more curious.

As I explored the emotion of curiosity, it led me to change my behavior. Where I might have rushed to this place and to the next, I took it slower. Where, usually, I would have just assumed that I already knew, I found myself asking more questions. When I asked more questions, I had to acknowledge that I did not already know, so I practiced listening. As I listened more, I felt compelled to show more appreciation to the person who interrupted their busy day to educate me. This made me feel grateful.

I took that gratitude and wanted to share with others. It blew my mind when people would say that they hated Houston. It was boring. The people are mean and it was ugly. And even more shocking was Houston is not walkable. Instead of getting offended, I decided to do my part in brightening up the day of the Houstonians who were stuck in a rut. Who saw and did the same things day after day. I didn't judge because I knew they could get out of that rut by simply deciding that today they do something different. I braced myself for rejection, but put myself out there to share the wonderful things that I had learned about Houston. Given the chance, the vast majority, was ready to learn a different way. This made me proud.

It is true that 2020 has been full of disasters. These are opportunities if we choose to see them that way. If anything that COVID-19 taught me the answer was not MORE, but it is LESS. We have the tendency to take on too much, we had the unique opportunity to take on less. Thus, instead of going to exhaustion, we had the opportunity to rest.

Then, the tragedy of the death of Houston's own George Floyd happened. It could not have happened at a worse time. My heart goes out to his family. Some might use it as an opportunity to work out their own frustrations by causing more problems with violence and looting. My hope is that whatever happens will be an expression of appropriate sadness, but with Houston's best attributes; curiosity, gratitude, and pride. Instead of LESS it is time for MORE. MORE curiosity. To see if Houston's law enforcement cares about the well-being of Houston's black community and make changes in protocols. MORE gratitude. For the opportunity to express the frustration in a peaceful way. MORE pride. To not destroy this city and give it over to violence possibly doing more damage to the economics of business owners. We can see this as the opportunity to take time to heal.

Houston has changed. As I restart my exploration, I'm not looking for LESS. I'm looking for MORE this time. I'm looking with MORE curiosity. Because I know that we have even MORE to show each other. I'm looking with MORE gratitude because we have endured so much already and there are better times ahead. And, I'm looking with MORE pride because just as we did it before, we still have it in us to do it again. I have one request: if you see me in the streets, promise me that you will say hello.

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