The Houston Rockets are officially on life support. After dropping Game 1 in overtime, Houston once again fell at home to the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday night, leaving them down 2-0 heading to Portland for Game 3 on Friday night.
The first two games of the series featured a pair of LaMarcus Aldridge explosions (he’s averaging a mere 44.5 points per game in the series) and little resistance from Houston’s defense. Kevin McHale made a simple adjustment on Aldridge from Game 1 to Game 2, which was putting Dwight Howard on him (something we saw little of in Game 1), and although that was the right move, the results were shockingly similar.
As a coach, McHale doesn’t have a tactical bone in his body. His players respect him because he’s an NBA legend and that’s a big reason why Houston has found chemistry this season, but Houston’s lack of structure and discipline is appalling. Whenever someone talks about Houston’s offensive sets, all I can do is cringe; calling them sets is doing an injustice to anyone who has ever created an original play in their lives. Offensively, the Rockets have zero structure, relying on sheer talent to carry them to victory (and more often than not, it worked — in the regular season).
Defensively, Houston is an absolute atrocity. If you study the Chicago Bulls defensively and then study the Rockets, it’s enough to make you gag. The Bulls are constantly aware of the shot clock, scrambling on every rotation with precision; Houston falls asleep away from the ball and defends the same way regardless of the shot clock. The Bulls battle over every screen, helping, recovering and showing on high pick and rolls; the Rockets lazily switch whenever possible, choosing to give a bad matchup before risking a new bruise (this excludes Patrick Beverley, who is an absolute animal).
Worst of all, watch Houston defend cutters. Honestly, it makes me sick sometimes. No one on the Rockets fronts the cutters, choosing to just jog beside them, allowing the opponent to take whatever route they want, and basically, that sums up Houston’s defense: Teams can do whatever they want to them.
For a team that starts two of the best defenders in the NBA (Howard and Beverley), there’s no excuse for this kind of ineptitude. So, let’s raise the question: If this first-round slaughter continues, will McHale get canned?
It’s possible, right?
There’s still time for McHale to right the ship, as the series is still within reach (a long-armed reach, but still close enough for McHale to grab it with those lanky arms of his). Obviously, McHale can’t be blamed for James Harden completely wetting the bed in the first two games or a handful of atrocious calls that played a part in both losses. However, McHale can be blamed for his lack of defensive strategy (why weren’t the Rockets double teaming Aldridge more often?) and his move to yank Beverley with five fouls in Game 1, which put the defensively-inept Jeremy Lin on Damian Lillard late in the fourth (Lillard immediately scored seven of the next nine for Portland, helping them get back in the game).
In the NBA, team’s usually get one kind of coach or the other: a tactician or an ego manager. Guys who do both are the elite coaches, but most guys are an 80-20 split one way or the other. McHale is simply an ego manager, and with his stars lacking the alpha-dog mentality, maybe that’s not what the Rockets need from their head coach.
Bottom line, if Houston drops this series, expect there to be at least some chatter of McHale hitting the road. Too bad Phil Jackson is off the market.