3-pointers: Takeaways from Rockets' loss to Kings
3-pointers: Takeaways from the Rockets' 119-118 loss to the Sacramento Kings:
Credit is due. The guy did hit a catch-and-shoot 3 in one second from 33 feet. The play design was outstanding. The Kings won the game with a game-winner.
There was an element of a Rockets breakdown on the final Kings shot, but the play worked and Nemanja Bjelica still had to make a long 3.
Harrison Barnes set a back screen for Buddy Hield. The Rockets switched with James Harden having to pick up Barnes as he rolled to the rim. The Rockets, as with most teams in that situation, were switching everything. P.J. Tucker took a step toward the lane.
At about the same time, Bogdan Bogdanovic curled toward Bjelica, who slipped the screen. Tucker backed away to switch, but when Bjelica slipped the screen and Danuel House Jr. stayed with Bogdanovic, Bjelica headed toward the 3-point line and beyond. Tucker's moment's hesitation to chase allowed Bjelica a clean catch and open shot.
The Kings did many things well on the final play. Bjelica made the shot. The Kings earned the win in a variety of ways before the decisive final shot.
All that out of the way, the Rockets messed around again. They played well enough in spurts to have a chance to win late. They nearly did, too. But do that often enough and the Nemanja Bjelicas around the league hit 3s to win.1. Nearly a month ago in New Orleans, Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni was not satisfied with a win. Harden had taken over late, but D'Antoni kept lamenting that the Rockets allowed the game to remain so close that he had to.
He cited "bonehead plays." He talked about the Rockets losing their man. He said the Rockets were good enough to win, but not good enough.
He knew then that too many games like that and the Rockets would take losses that they should not if they were to get "where we want to be."
A month later, they did not close out the Spurs and took a double-overtime loss. They did not close out the Suns with double-digit leads and came away with a six-point win. They did not close out the Kings and were beaten at the buzzer.
That's how the season began, too, with the Rockets edging the Thunder, Pelicans and Wizards. They have played much better since then. But the Rockets still don't play with reliable energy and intensity. They have strong defensive stretches, but there are times they also give up open 3s.
The Kings knocked down 45.9 percent of those 3-pointers, so it was no surprise when Bjelica hit their final 3. The Rockets have been dreadful in transition defense, allowing a league-worst 16.3 fast-break points per game, shaky at defending the 3-point line, where opponents are making 35.6 percent of their 3s.
It is a cliché to say that there is always a comeback in the NBA. The Rockets are not about to get a blowout every time they lead by 11, as they did on Monday. But the trend of the first 23 games of the season has been to play teams close and try to win late.
That's dangerous. Games that could go either way will not all go the Rockets' way. If that was not clear by now, the Kings gave the Rockets another reminder they should no longer need.2. Harden had for a while found ways to defeat the double-teams and traps. He moved the ball. The Rockets went four-on-three. Harden still scored.
He has seemed off, however. In the past four games, Harden has made 13 of 53 3s. In the previous 13 games, he had been shooting 41.4 percent from the 3-point line.
It had been remarkable that he could shoot that well for that long (especially while shooting that often) against the kind of defenses teams were throwing at him. But high-volume shooters often get in a rhythm, and Harden had. He had scored even in games in which he mostly gave up the ball.
In the past two games, he averaged 30.5 points, but has not been sharp. He would seem entitled given all he faces every night and all he had done before a brief downturn. The Rockets should not need him to carry them every night and have gotten performances lately that could have made up for having their best player off for a few games.
There is a reason, however, that teams commit so much of their defense to slowing Harden. It's not just that they are willing to take their chances with the shooters around him and that while the Rockets are shorthanded (Austin Rivers was the latest to get the flu-like symptoms making the rounds of their locker room) there is not enough scoring off the bench.
Part of Harden's excellence is that he can make the tough shots. The stepback 3s that have become such an important part of his repertoire cannot be taken away but remain shots that few players can sink regularly. Harden can, but lately has not.
That could be one of those stretches that every player goes through, but part of the difficulty of facing the defenses he has is that in addition to taking good looks away, it is difficult to be in a groove for the shots he gets. Harden has so many ways to score that he typically finds a way that will work when another way does not. But Harden was clearly off against the Suns and Kings, making it difficult to call on the other parts of his game, either.3. The Rockets would probably prefer to forget a two-game homestand in which they edged the Suns and lost to the Kings, but it could be worth noting for reasons more encouraging than just for lessons learned.
For a second consecutive game, Russell Westbrook looked comfortable with his place in the offense.
He did not score his season-high 34 points on Monday just because he made shots he had been missing, though there were a few of those, too. Westbrook has seemed to be better in attacking, using the spacing that is available in the Rockets' offense.
Westbrook made 2 of his 4 3-pointers on Monday, including one with 67 seconds left to tie the game. He made one of those turnaround, mid-range jumpers that he had been missing. But mostly, he picked his spots well and made 11 of 13 shots inside the arc.
Against the Suns, he made 9 of 15 shots inside the 3-point line. In the past four games, he has averaged 10 assists.
After the 14 of 57 shooting against the Spurs and Raptors, having Westbrook so efficient against the Suns and Kings could be something to build on, even worth remembering from a forgettable pair of games at home.
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