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Friday, November 16, 2018

Commentary

Rocket Fuel: Injuries, shooting woes prevent successful takeoff


The new-look Rockets have suffered a tough start to the season. Houston’s only win was against a Lakers team that is also struggling. | Jackson Gatlin/ The Cougar

A 1-5 record just six games in with James Harden, Chris Paul, James Ennis III and others missing significant time is likely not how the Houston Rockets envisioned their season starting.

Couple those players’ absences with the shooting woes of Eric Gordon — 30 percent from the field, 23 percent from three — along with reserves Gerald Green and Michael Carter-Williams, and you get a situation that is less than ideal.

“We’re not full strength,” said Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni. “(We) got to get by with blood and guts and playing harder, just being a little sharper and (focusing on) the little details we’re not doing. We just need to be better collectively as a group.”

Offensively, the team is currently in the bottom five in the NBA with an average of just fewer than 106 points per game, while defensively the Rockets are giving up a little more than 116 points per contest.

Paul missed the third and fourth games of the season due to a two-game suspension after some liquid interference on the court, while Harden has been nursing a sore hamstring since the end of game four against the Utah Jazz. Harden will practice today in Brooklyn but may remain a game-time decision for Friday night’s match against the Nets.

The Rockets’ offense, which was ranked at No. 11 of the best in history last season, is built upon having an elite ball handler that can score or make plays for others on the floor for the entire 48 minutes. Normally, Houston uses Paul to attack opposing teams’ bench units while Harden gets a breather. Take away either one of the Rockets’ All-NBA guards, and the scheme no longer works, at least not as well as it normally does.

A ray of hope for Rockets fans is Harden and Paul are 1-1 in their only two games together this season, and while losing the home opener in a blowout against the New Orleans Pelicans 131-112 was a bit rough, they both returned to form in a win on the road against LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers 124-115.

Rumors started circulating about a month ago concerning the possibility of Tomball-native Jimmy Butler being traded to Houston when the Minnesota Timberwolves’ star player requested a trade, but nothing ever came to fruition.

Reports of trade talks surrounding the Timberwolves forward have emerged again, with the Rockets apparently making an offer heavily focused on including four future first-round draft picks to create a star trio of Harden, Paul and Butler.

Whether or not Butler dons Rockets red, Houston will look to stop the bleeding tomorrow evening at 6:30 p.m. on the road against the Brooklyn Nets on the first night of a back-to-back. Houston follows that up with a 7 p.m. tip-off set in Chicago the following day against the Bulls.

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