The Houston Rockets are well aware that they’ve fallen short of expectations. Improving their play against last-place teams seems like a good place to start turning things around.
The Rockets look to rebound from one of their worst defensive performances in years and avoid their seventh loss to a team currently in last place in its division Wednesday night when they host the Sacramento Kings.
The Rockets, though, could be left out of the playoff picture in the Western Conference if they can’t find a way to defeat teams they’re expected to beat. They’ve dropped five of their last nine games, and their losses in that stretch have come against Indiana, New York, Philadelphia, Memphis and Milwaukee. Of those opponents, only the 76ers (26-24) have a winning record.
“A couple of games, we look like a team, a very defensively sound team, the offense is running fluently,” McGrady said Tuesday. “And then some days, we look like we don’t have a clue about execution on either end. It’s all about us getting on the same page. We’re a weird team.”
Houston’s record against last-place teams supports McGrady’s statement. The Rockets won their only previous meeting with the Pacific Division-worst Kings (11-42), but are just 6-6 against teams currently at the bottom of the league’s six divisions.
Rockets players have been preaching consistency for months, but haven’t been able to put together a sustained stretch of quality basketball. At this time last season, the Rockets were in the midst of a 22-game winning streak - the second-longest run in NBA history.
“I think every guy on this team has to find the identity we had last year,” coach Rick Adelman said. “We’ve lost it somewhere along the line and there’s got to be an urgency to get it back.”
That identity was still absent Monday night, when the Rockets lost 124-112 in Milwaukee. Despite missing three starters, the Bucks produced the highest point total against the Rockets since the Kings - then coached by Adelman - beat them 125-109 on March 20, 2001.
Adelman is 3-2 against the Kings since taking over the Rockets last season, his first head coaching job since his eight-year tenure with Sacramento ended after the 2005-06 campaign.
The Rockets have won four straight home games against the Kings, including a 107-96 victory Dec. 19. Yao had 30 points and Luis Scola added 23 points and 10 rebounds, while John Salmons led Sacramento with 26 points.
The Kings could have a hard time snapping their skid in Houston if their defensive woes continue. They’ve given up at least 100 points in 15 straight games, allowing an average of 119.0 while going 2-13 in that stretch.
Sacramento let Dallas shoot 55.3 percent from the field in a 118-100 loss Tuesday night. The Kings trailed by only six at halftime before the Mavericks broke the game open.
“Somehow or another we have to find a way to get 48 minutes of play,” Kings coach Kenny Natt said. “We played hard and played well in the first half but we were just unable to bring that energy in the third quarter.”