The Rockets report, brought to you by APG&E: Rockets let one slip against the Kings 119-118
On Saturday, Las Vegas had the Rockets favored to beat the Suns by 11 points. They won by 6. Tonight, the closing odds had Houston favored to win by 12. They lost by 1.
The story for this game will obviously be the crazy final few possessions of the game and specifically the last one where Nemanja Bjelica hit a walk-off-three-pointer to give Sacramento the victory. However, there's a worrisome pattern emerging about this Rockets team in that they may very well be a good team that goes on to win 50 or more games, but the jury is still out as to whether they can be the bonafide title contener that they were just two seasons ago. The Rockets should not have been in a one-possession game with the Sacramento Kings (who were coming off a back to back) in to end the game in Houston to begin with. In a year where Houston's defense needs to be at least top ten, if not top five to truly compete with the best of the NBA, they've trended average (15th in the NBA).
"We didn't challenge ourselves," Russell Westbrook said after the game. "It's not about them. We're playing for a bigger goal."
Again, it's more likely than not that the Rockets will be a very good team this season. The problem is with teams like the Lakers and Bucks (both 21-3), very good isn't good enough. We'll see if Houston turns it around defensively, but until then, it's very possible that this team has a ceiling. Of course, until we see the Rockets' fully healthy roster at the end of the season, all of this is to be determined.
Star of the game: It's unfortunate for Houston that Russell Westbrook's best game as a Rocket came in this loss, but it doesn't diminish how well he's played as of late. Westbrook had 34 points, 8 assists, 3 rebonds, and 2 steals on 13 of 17 shooting from the field, 2 of 4 shooting from three-point range, and 6 of 7 shooting from the free throw line. He was simply brilliant tonight and nearly had the game winning layup before Nemanja Bjelica delivered Houston a heartbreaker.
Honorable mention: This was the furthest thing from James Harden's best game this season, but he did manage to log 27 points, 10 assists, 4 rebounds, and 2 steals on 8 of 19 shooting from the field and 8 of 8 shooting from the free throw line. Harden's just looked a step off as of late (16 of 46 from the field and 6 of 27 from three-point range these past two games). It could be that seemingly Houston's entire locker room is suffering from a bad illness, but without an admission from Harden (which he won't give), we'll never know for sure.
Key moment: It may come off as unsophisticated to put the final possession of the game here, but it perfectly illustrates why it's hard to buy Houston as a tier one title contender right now - their defense. Here, the Rockets, specifically P.J. Tucker surprisingly, allowed a wide-open three-pointer from Nemanja Bjelica to end a game they should have won by double digits in the first place. Houston will continue to tell you that they have high aspirations this year (and they do), but if they continue to be just average as a defensive team, it's hard to buy.
Up next: The Rockets travel to Cleveland to play the Cavaliers at 6:00 p.m. on Wednesday.