Rock bottom

The Rockets report, brought to you by APG&E: Rockets lose to Lakers in Houston 124-115

The Rockets have had a number of must-win games this season, but this was one was at the top of the list. Having had two team "discussions" going into tonight, Houston's team morale going into this one was questionable at best. A win over the top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers could have certainly helped spark some momentum that they desperately need right now.

Houston actually started this game the appropriate fear, but that seemed to dissipate as the game went along, particularly in the third quarter where things went completely arry for the Rockets. In addition to poor shooting (1 of 11 from three-point range), the Rockets turned the ball over 6 times, made silly fouls to compound their mistakes, and could not seem to defend the Lakers in transition.

"We just didn't make plays," said Mike D'Antoni after the game. "Then we turned it over a couple times, they got out on the break. We ran them the first half and they upped their pace and ran us the second half."

The Rockets had as many turnovers (20) as assists tonight. This is the worst team to do that against as the Lakers are 10-0 when forcing 20+ turnovers this season.

There's little doubt that this was a make-or-break game for the Rockets given that they lost 3 out of their last 4 before tonight, but it is up to them on if they'll actually break. Publicly, they've kept a brave face, but talk is cheap. There needs to be concrete improvement they can to point to and aside from the first 24 minutes of tonight's game, that's been hard to find.

Star of the game: Despite the poor team play, Russell Westbrook has held his own as of late. Tonight, Westbrook had 35 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists, and 3 steals on 15 of 23 shooting from the field. Westbrook has had at least 30 points and 5 assists in each of the Rockets' last four games.

Honorable mention: His defense wasn't great tonight, but James Harden did find a way to also fill the stat sheet in Houston's loss. Harden was dealing with an aggressive Lakers trap all night, but still managed to get 34 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds, and 1 block on 60.9% true shooting tonight. Again, I'm sure Harden himself wouldn't put this among his proudest performances however.

Key moment: The Rockets were playing really great in the first half on both ends. James Harden was deferring because of Los Angeles' traps, Russell Westbrook was rolling (22 points on 9 of 12 shooting from the field), and Clint Capela was playing very well defensively (9 rebounds, 3 blocks, and a +/- of +9). Things completely for turned for Houston in the third quarter, however. Technical fouls were flying, offensive fouls were being drawn on both ends, and the Rockets lost the lead in the chaos of the opening minutes. Offensively, the Rockets were atrocious in the third quarter (17 points scored on 1 of 11 shooting from three-point range) and defensively, the Lakers ran the ball down Houston's throat.

Up next: The Rockets play the Oklahoma City Thunder in Houston at 4:00 p.m. on Wednesday.

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5 questions on the John Wall trade

The Rockets made a big move. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images.

The Houston Rockets point guard carousel continued to spin Wednesday night, as the Woj bomb-iest of Houston-related Woj bombs erupted in the Space City:

For the third year in a row, the Rockets will begin the season with a new point guard, in an attempt to finally find someone that can play alongside James Harden. Let's take a look at how the Rockets got to this point, and what it means moving forward.

What led to the trade?

Russell Westbrook simply wanted out. Westbrook is the type of player that needs to be the number one ball handler and that simply wasn't ever going to happen on a James Harden led team. Other reports cited Westbrook's frustration with the lack of accountability and casual atmosphere within the locker room. Ultimately if anyone was going to be moved between Harden and Westbrook, it was always going to be Westbrook.

Why John Wall?

This one is another fairly straightforward answer: they both have relatively similar contracts. Each is making an absurdly overpriced $40 million this season, and both were disgruntled with their current team. Rockets General Manager Rafael Stone and Wizards GM Tommy Sheppard tossed the idea around a few weeks ago, but couldn't find a deal they liked. It was reported that discussions resumed Wednesday afternoon and within a few hours the deal was done in an almost one-for-one swap.

How does Wall fit?

This is a little more complicated because it's not exactly known what head coach Stephen Silas' game plan is. It's also difficult to predict whether or not Harden will still be on the roster when the season starts. But let's assume that Harden takes the court for the Rockets and that Silas' system resembles something similar to what we've seen in Houston for the past few years. In that case, Wall would be a slight upgrade to Westbrook. Westbrook is more athletic than Wall, but when healthy Wall was no slouch. In addition he's a much better defensive player and has much better court vision than Westbrook. Westbrook's assists were usually a bailout after attacking the lane with his head down, while Wall is more likely to set up a teammate.

This isn't to say that Wall doesn't need the ball though. He's fairly ball dominant, but not nearly as much as Westbrook. Harden proved last season that he's capable of effectively playing off the ball if necessary, so it seems like a better fit from a distribution rate alone. If they can find that sweet spot like they did with Chris Paul and stagger the lineups so that each star gets their own time to create, there's potential for an improved Rockets team more reminiscent of their 2018 run than the past two years.

What are the best and worst case scenarios?

The worst case is that the Rockets were sold a lemon. Wall has potential to be an upgrade, but comes with huge risk. He last took the court in 2018, where he was sidelined with a knee injury. He subsequently ruptured his Achilles in an accident at his home while recovering from the knee injury, forcing Wall off the court for almost two years. It's possible an extremely unfortunate Wall reinjures something and completely derails the machinations of the trade. Even if he's recovered fully, it will take time to get him up to game speed which could frustrate Harden on a team that can't afford a slow start in their stacked conference. Harden has managed to cultivate drama with just about every co-star he's played with, so there's no reason to assume this attempt would go any better.

The best case scenario is that Wall arrives ready to play team basketball and resembles the better part of his pre-injury form. Wall and Harden buy into Silas' new system, space the floor, and take turns carving up the lane with dribble drives and kick outs to players who can actually hit from distance. This version of the Rockets could potentially be a 3-seed in this year's Western Conference.

Who won the trade?

At the moment the Rockets. Not only did they remove at least one of their locker room distractions, but they also gain a first round pick. If Wall can stay healthy and Silas can keep both stars happy, this team should be a lot more fun to watch than last season's clunker.

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