Rockets Offense Stalls Without James Harden in Loss to Spurs

Michael Shapiro

The Rockets got a taste of what life would be like without James Harden on Tuesday afternoon, and the results weren't pretty. Houston's offense sputtered for much of its 123-105 loss to the Spurs in a rare weekday matinee, with the result rarely in doubt for much of the second half. The Rockets can survive without Eric Gordon, Danuel House or even Russell Westbrook on the right night. That same leeway doesn't apply with the three-time scoring champion out of the lineup. 

Here are three takeaways from Tuesday's loss.

Cold Shooting Spreads

The Rockets like to live and die by the three, and its skeleton crew vs. San Antonio did the latter on Tuesday afternoon. Houston missed 34 of 48 threes in the blowout loss, and no Rocket shot better than 50% from beyond the arc. P.J. Tucker and Jeff Green combined for a 2-9 mark from three. Austin Rivers struggled after a career night. Even sharpshooter Ben McLemore didn't have a strong game, making four threes on 12 attempts. Especially with James Harden out of the lineup, the Rockets can't quite compete on such a poor shooting night. 

Houston didn't help itself offensively aside from its poor shooting performance. The Rockets committed 18 turnovers and scored just 12 fast-break points, failing to find any semblance of rhythm in Westbrook's return to the lineup. Houston will look to find its groove across the next week ahead of the postseason.

"We need to play well on Friday when we get [our team] together," Rockets head coach Mike D'Antoni said postgame. "We're trying to get through these next two games and we're just trying to get guys physically ready to go next week."

Covington's Struggles Continue

Robert Covington doesn't need to be a leading scorer by any stretch to provide value to the small-ball Rockets. He's emerged as a linchpin of Houston's defensive scheme since joining the team in February, serving as a true jack-of-all-trades. Only James Harden has more steals in Orlando. Just two players have more blocks since Feb. 4. Covington is an elite turnover generator, and he can truly battle all five positions. But his current shooting stretch is putting a damper on his value. 

Covington finished Tuesday's loss with just six points on 2-9 from the field, and he added an 0-6 mark from three along with three turnovers. And the cold shooting night continued his struggles in Orlando. He's made just nine of 44 three-point attempts since July 31, and perhaps more troubling, he appeared to pass up open jumpers in spurts on Tuesday. Covington will get more than enough leeway to resurrect his shot in the postseason. But a failure to pull the trigger is more damaging than any string of misses. Covington needs to be ready to let it fly alongside Houston's pair of MVPs.

Carroll Makes Orlando Debut

DeMarre Carroll had been firmly glued to the bench through the Rockets' first five games in Orlando, but the veteran forward saw plenty of playing time as Houston limped to a blowout loss. Carroll looked spry in 21 minutes, scoring six points on 2-4 shooting. Carroll's skillset matches what D'Antoni needs to execute a small-ball lineups, though its hard to see him earning significant playing time in the postseason. D'Antoni's rotation is likely to be capped at nine bodies. Carroll doesn't fit into the equation if everyone is healthy. But in the event of an injured wing, D'Antoni could potentially turn to the Marquette product in a pinch. 

Up Next: vs. Pacers on Wednesday

The Rockets will complete their lone back-to-back in Orlando on Wednesday as they square off against T.J. Warren and the Pacers. Houston will once again be undermanned to a degree vs. Indiana, with Russell Westbrook slated to rest as James Harden returns to the lineup. D'Antoni and the Rockets hope for both Eric Gordon and Danuel House to play.

Tip-off is slated for 3 p.m. CT.

Comments (1)
No. 1-1

Need Harden to be at full strength for playoffs I don't mind him sitting a couple games.

Game Day