Houston, we have a problem.
This was the year the Houston Rockets were expected to make some playoff noise. After landing backcourt star James Harden two years ago, Houston brought in one of the league’s best centers in Dwight Howard last offseason. Pairing the duo with a stable collection of talent, including legitimate third-banana Chandler Parsons, and a backcourt that included Jeremy Lin and Patrick Beverley, an NBA Finals appeared within reach.
Funny how things work out.
With a layup by Parsons with .9 seconds left to give Houston a two-point lead, the Rockets appeared to be on the way to forcing a Game 7. Off of an in bounds pass, though, Lillard made a difficult three-pointer at the buzzer to win the game – and the series, sending Houston to an early playoff exit.
A 54-28 record gave Houston the all-important home court advantage and even though winning the series could have meant a date with the Oklahoma City Thunder, as the No. 4 seed, they stood a solid chance of getting out of the first round. Seems getting out of that first round was more difficult than anticipated.
The Rockets weren’t only beaten in this series, but beaten soundly. Houston quickly dropped the first and second games. At home. While they recovered with a Game 3 win on the road, they faced a 3-1 deficit after losing Game 4. The Rockets staved off elimination in Game 5, but the buzzer-beater on Friday night officially sunk them. Even Game 3’s victory came in overtime and Houston seemed off-balance all series long.
Dwight Howard and James Harden will get some of the blame because they’re the stars. However, that’s a bit unfair as both held their own for the most part. Each scored more points than they did in the regular season and Howard grabbed more rebounds. The center, in particular, really upped his game, averaging nearly six more points than he did this season. Shooting was an issue (Harden shot only 37.6 percent from the field and Howard’s field goal percentage dropped to 54.7 percent from 59.1 percent in the regular season), but overall, neither player failed to show up.
So what happened? For one thing, Portland just played out of their minds. They would have beaten a lot of teams with that effort and LaMarcus Aldridge is proving to be extremely difficult for opposing teams to handle. In addition, while Howard and Harden did more, the Rockets also got less from Beverley and power forward Terrence Jones. Both produced significantly less and failed to average in double figures in scoring like they did in the regular season.
For now, it’s back to the drawing board. The Rockets have serious questions and while they have a solid trio of Harden, Howard, and Parsons, a bit more is needed to compete for a title.