Rockets' loss will sting, but the run is far from over

By Matt Moore | NBA writer

The Houston Rockets lost a tough series Friday.   (USATSI)
The Houston Rockets lost a tough series Friday. (USATSI)

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This one... is gonna hurt for a while.

The Houston Rockets lost in six games to the Portland Trail Blazers, their elimination coming at the hands of Damian Lillard's improbable/unbelievable/unfathomable last-second buzzer-beater. The Rockets lost in six games, despite outscoring the Blazers 672-670. The Rockets lost in six games despite having homecourt advantage, two All-Stars and a significant size and experience advantage. And while nearly every game was close, so many of them epic, and even though the series was decided on one improbable shot, the Rockets will know how much this is on them, how each of the plays that wound up killing them were representative of this team's flaws throughout the year.

The Rockets' fourth quarter offense was a mess all year. It not only failed in huge ways, but it would often create such bad situations that it would open transition opportunities on the other end. And against Portland, the Rockets finished by allowd 113.6 points per 100 possessions in the fourth, outscored by eight points in the final frame per game on average.

They had no one to steady the boat, to contain James Harden's isolation after isolation. They had no one to weather the storm with, and that has to be Daryl Morey's biggest priority this summer.

Their defense was a wreck all year. All season long, despite multiple-time Defensive-Player-of-the-Year Dwight Howard on board, they were a mess. And yet one of their best defenders, Francisco Garcia, didn't play more than two minutes in this series. They couldn't stretch the floor appropriately, even with their killer offense, their three-point attack in key situations didn't punish teams for helping down. Yet Jordan Hamilton, Garcia, and Omri Casspi weren't in the rotation. Troy Daniels helped them out for a few games, but he played just nine minutes in Game 7.

Houston suffered a crushing, devastating first-round loss.

And yet, there are a lot of reasons to consider this season a success. This Rockets team was always the start of something, not the end. After the Rockets snagged Dwight Howard in free agency, they scrambled to fill out the rest of their roster. But with Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik both on sizeable contracts with poison pills built in, he struggled to finish the job. So he wound up trying to fill in. Patrick Beverley was out of the league a year and a half ago... he became the starting point guard. Francisco Garcia was signed as he defensive stopper.

They couldn't move Asik after Asik demanded a trade, and no one bit on Lin.

Coach Kevin McHale hadled this team through a lot of personal tragedy over the past two seasons and is well-liked by the players. But Houston's defensive issues, combined with roster decisions and the urgency to win now with this team may make for dicey hot seat for him this summer.

They need James Harden to step up and accept his responsibility on the defensive end. If you're going to play that many minutes, you can't be that bad on defense; you have to at least be passable. Houston also needs a point guard to run the offense, a wing defender, and a little maturation for Terrence Jones.

The Rockets will likely be able to find some way to move Lin and Asik over the summer, even if they have to take a bath on the deal. Despite the loss, there will be players who want to play for a team with Harden and Howard, and a team clearly committed to winning in a state with no income tax. It's a tough order, but there's no reason to think this is the end of the Rockets. Instead it's only the beggining.

But yeah, this one's going to sting for a while.

 
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