HOUSTON -- After 10 games this season, with the talent the Houston Rockets have, the lack of practice time, injuries and adjustment to new faces can’t be used as excuses anymore.
If you keep harping on what you don’t have, the season will be over before you know it.
The Rockets hit rock bottom after a 110-98 loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday night. Now might be the time to panic -- yes, even though we're only 10 games into the season.
Last season, en route to a 56-win campaign, the Rockets didn’t lose three consecutive games until the Western Conference Finals. They’ve done that twice in the first three weeks of this season.
The Rockets were down by as much as 26 Saturday against a Mavericks team playing without Dirk Nowitzki, Wesley Matthews or Chandler Parsons. Houston never led at any point during the game, scored a season-low 20 first-quarter points and shot a dismal 38.1 percent from the field.
When asked how difficult it was to overcome a slow start, Kevin McHale kept it real.
“It wasn’t a slow start -- it was a terrible start,” he said. “We were missing layups, we missed everything, open shots. We just panicked. We started to swing the ball around. Give guys credit: They did find a way to get a little gas, fight back in second half. That is as bad as it can get. I can’t imagine it can get any worse.”
McHale said he is tired of talking to his group about playing with a sense of energy, communicating on the defensive end and just making plays.
“We’ve had a lot of heart-to-hearts,” McHale said. “As a matter of fact, we talk too much. Talking doesn’t win basketball games. I’ve never seen talking win anything, unless you’re talking on defense.”
The Rockets play tentatively on offense, trying to make perfect passes instead of taking the ball to the basket to draw fouls. When this team does shoot jumpers, making them is an issue.
Trevor Ariza hasn’t found his shot in the first three weeks and missed seven of eight attempts Saturday. Ty Lawson, who went 0-for-7 Friday in Denver, hit his first shot the next night. When his Saturday night was over, Lawson had a minus-13 plus/minus and 3-of-8 from the floor for a total of seven points. Lawson has had four single-digit scoring games this season; last year, he had three in the first 20.
James Harden had an empty game-high 25 points. He missed his first 10 shots and made just five of 21 attempts from the floor.
Harden did take the ball to the basket but missed shots at the rim and didn’t get all the calls when he drew contact. The Rockets missed the rim several times on layups and were late on the defensive end against a Mavs team that shot 47.8 percent.
It surprises Harden that his team continues to search for consistency.
“It does, but you just got to keep fighting and keep pushing away. That’s all we can do,” he said. “Eventually, things will turn around. We can’t sit back to hope. For it to turnaround, we have to press the issues and be a little bit more aggressive and be a little bit more vocal on both ends of the floor.”
Is it time to panic?
“Ten games. We got 72 more, right?” he said.
Health is a factor for the Rockets. McHale didn’t have backup point guard Patrick Beverley (ankle) on Saturday and lost Montrezl Harrell to a sprained ankle in the third quarter. Dwight Howard missed the game for rest because it was the second night of a back-to-back.
That doesn't even include the mention of Donatas Motiejunas, who is going through back rehab. Although he is progressing, there is no telling when he will return.
The Rockets are running out of excuses in November.
“We just got to find it,” forward Marcus Thornton said. “It’s 10 games, but we can’t let it linger on and we can’t have that as an excuse. Like, 'Oh, it’s young in the season.’ We got to find it now, some kind of way.”
Thornton, who didn’t play with the Rockets last season, said this team is playing with a target on its back after reaching the conference finals.
Maybe the Rockets realize it but can't do anything about it, in terms of responding from a physical standpoint.
“We’ve been talking,” Harden said. “We’ve been doing too much talking. It’s about going out there and about the action.”
NBA teams lose all the time, but the Rockets lost their first three games by a total of 60 points, suffered a loss to the then-winless Brooklyn Nets, had a bad loss Friday in Denver and then lost to a Mavs team giving its three best players a vacation day.
“It’s frustrating, man,” Corey Brewer said. “Very frustrating. We’ve got to keep our heads up.”