The Houston Rockets still are not whole, and with one dozen of their 72-game schedule in the books, it's becoming easier to wonder if they will find their footing and salvage their season.
The newest member of the Rockets was preaching patience following a 125-120 loss at the Chicago Bulls on Monday. Victor Oladipo predicting fairer skies ahead following his 32-point, five-rebound, nine-assist debut in the aftermath of the blockbuster trade that sent All-NBA guard James Harden to Brooklyn and landed Oladipo on a makeshift roster in Houston.
"Our better days are ahead of us, definitely," Oladipo said. "Obviously off the fly we just went out there and winged it a little bit with not very much time to prep. But our better days are ahead. Everyone just stay patient, including us. Our better days are ahead. This is only the beginning."
The Rockets will host the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday with their roster still in flux due to injury. Guard John Wall (knee) remains sidelined. Forward Danuel House Jr. (COVID protocols) and guard Dante Exum (calf), who was acquired along with Oladipo last week, are also out. Guard Sterling Brown (right leg) is questionable to play after missing the past two contests.
The lack of familiarity has undermined Houston defensively, as Chicago hit 20 3-pointers.
"Our commitment to the defensive end, that's really going to tell the tale of our story," Rockets coach Stephen Silas said. "That's going to tell how we're going to be this year, how good we're going to be and our level of commitment to being good. And it's going to be on the defensive end, not the offensive end."
Suns coach Monty Williams described the time off Phoenix had between its blowout loss at the Washington Wizards on Jan. 11 and its 108-104 setback at the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday as a delay in the process of acclimation, with multiple health and safety protocol postponements putting the Suns "in a bit of a bind."
Related to that concern is the jelling of the starting backcourt, Chris Paul and Devin Booker, two ball-dominant guards. Booker suffered through his worst game of the season by shooting percentage against the Grizzlies, missing 16 of 21 attempts, while making only 2 of 6 3-pointers en route to a subpar 12-point performance.
The Suns value possessions and, by pace, are one of the most methodical teams in the league. A schedule compromised by unexpected stoppages has wreaked havoc on their progress.
"We just haven't figured out how to play our style consistently," Williams said. "We see it in spurts but we haven't seen it in long periods of time. When we do it, we look pretty good."
Williams altered his rotation against Memphis, inserting second-year forward Cameron Johnson into the starting lineup for the first time, while shifting veteran Jae Crowder to the closing unit. The results were uneven, with the Suns starting well and taking a 24-18 lead into the second quarter, only to come undone defensively in the second period and down the stretch of the fourth.
"I think it's a lineup that's going to take some time," Williams said. "I keep saying we haven't identified the way we have to play consistently. We see it in spurts, and I'm hopeful that the lineup with Cam out there, with his cutting and his ability to space the floor, can help that starting unit."
--Field Level Media