Gut-punch

The Rockets report, brought to you by APG&E: Rockets narrowly lose to Jazz in Houston 114-113

If this the definition of a heartbreaking loss, I don't know what is.

The Rockets legitimately looked like a top tier contender with the way they competed with Utah in the first half. Russell Westbrook and James Harden both took advantage of a spaced floor by getting to the rim at will, Houston's rotations on switches looked much crisper, and shots were falling (23 for 46 from the field).

The second half is where things fell apart. The Rockets got out-rebounded 26 to 20, their defense fell apart at the end of the third quarter and beginning of the fourth quarter, and Houston couldn't hit a three-pointer for long stretches of the second half. On the whole, however, the Rockets competed pretty hard against a really good Western Conference team, but lost. The Jazz just played better in the moments that mattered.

Robert Covington and P.J. Tucker gave the Rockets gave the Rockets a chance with two late three-pointers, but Bojan Bogdanovic hit a really hard three-pointer over two outstretched defenders in less than 1.6 seconds. Houston played a really good team, played hard, and showed some encouraging signs defensively, but they lost on a tough game winner. Sometimes it can really be that simple.

Star of the game: The Rockets struggled offensively in the second half, but it was to no fault of Russell Westbrook. Westbrook logged 39 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 block, and 1 steal on 18 of 33 shooting from the field and 1 of 2 shooting from three-point range. Like the Lakers game, Westbrook attacked straight one-on-one coverages brilliantly with a spaced floor. The Jazz, rather smartly, placed Rudy Gobert on Westbrook in the first quarter. After the first timeout, the Rockets used Westbrook as a screener as a decent counter.

Honorable mention: It'll go unnoticed, but James Harden actually finished this game with a triple double, logging 28 points, 10 assists, 10 rebounds, 2 blocks, and 1 steal on 11 of 23 shooting from the field. Harden was horrible from three-point range, missing 11 of 13 from deep.

Key moment: The Rockets lost this game midway through the fourth quarter, specifically the 5:56 mark where the Jazz went on a 9-0 run to give them a 107-100 lead at the 3:00 mark. Houston recovered from that and nearly won the game off a P.J. Tucker buzzer beater, but having to recover from that put them behind the 8-ball.

Up next: The Rockets play the Boston Celtics in Houston at 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday.

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Even though the Rockets got out rebounded this past weekend by the Dallas Mavericks and Milwaukee Bucks, they still came out victorious. With the small-ball rotation, the Rockets are 8-2 against the Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, Clippers, Utah Jazz, Dallas Mavericks, and Milwaukee Bucks.

The Rockets are suffering on the rebounding side, but this offense has allowed them to score more points. They are much faster in transition because of Robert Covington and Jeff Green. This team can spread the floor more because of the space. This allows their shooters to get more open. With having Russell Westbrook on the Rockets, he can create plays for wide open shooters. As defensive zones collapse on Westbrook, he is able to get the ball out to James Harden, Ben McLemore, and PJ Tucker.

Before the All-Star break, the Rockets were averaging 118.2 points per game and their winning percentage was .630%. After the break, including bubble play, the Rockets are averaging 121 points per game and winning percentage is now .667% because of the small man rotation.

The Rockets are ranked number one in offensive scoring in the NBA. They put up 42 points in the first quarter against the Mavericks last Friday. The Rockets scored a total of 153 points to beat the Mavericks in overtime. They outscored the second highest team in the NBA, the Milwaukee Bucks, to get win on Sunday night. The Rockets went on a 14-6 run with three minutes left in the game. Their best weapon as a team, is to outscore the opposing opponent.

With the Rockets small-ball rotation, they are able wear defenses down. Harden and Westbrook are always playing Mike D'Antoni's system at a high tempo. The Rockets are ranked third in transition offense this season. This allows them win close games because the other team is tired.

Daryl Morey about a week ago cracked a joke on the Denver Nuggets big man starting five.

Morey even still feels confident about the smallball rotation. He made a great statement on July 15, 2020. He believes it is helping Westbrook a lot.

"Obviously, we're playing small but people forget that unlocked Russell a lot on the offensive end and James on the offensive end. But it also unlocked us on the defensive end. Not many guards average in their career multiple times over 10 rebounds a game," as Morey explained to Anthony Duckett of FanSided. "And the fact that Eric [Gordon] is thick and strong and James allows us to play this way. Everyone makes it sounds like it's a gimmick but really [it’s]the best way to play. And what I love about coach [D'Antoni] is that he recognizes that and is able to optimize that."

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