For most of the Rockets’ demoralizing 20-game skid, first-year Houston coach Stephen Silas has attempted to serve as a beacon of optimism despite all of the misery engulfing his team.
On Sunday, following a 114-112 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, Silas appeared worn. Each of the Rockets’ previous 12 defeats had come by a double-digit margin, the longest such streak in NBA history. Against the Thunder, the Rockets were agonizingly close to tasting victory for the first time since Feb. 4 when they defeated Memphis and lost Christian Wood to an injury.
Down the stretch, the Rockets failed to grasp what has eluded them for six weeks. They missed free throws, failed to limit dribble penetration, and ultimately did just enough to lose — again.
Houston will host the Toronto Raptors, who are mired in an eight-game losing streak, on Monday hoping to shake the doldrums lingering around them like a stench.
“I just knew that we were going to get over the hump,” Silas said. “And we had chances and they just drove the ball and scored or got fouled or made big 3s. Just uh, yeah.”
The Rockets were convinced that things would improve once Wood returned from his 17-game injury absence and teamed with guards John Wall and Victor Oladipo, both of whom have been limited by injuries and injury maintenance that prevented their participation in back-to-backs.
The losses have continued unabated despite Wood averaging 22 points and 9.3 rebounds over three games since his return. And after the latest setback, Wood expressed frustration with his fourth-quarter role after Wall hoisted a desperation 3 at the buzzer, seemingly a sign of fraying.
“We’re not playing together,” Wood said following a series of one-word answers. “Just the ball movement (needs to improve). I would like to be more involved in the offense going down the stretch. There is oftentimes where I’ve been left in the corner and taken out of the offense, and it kind of takes me out of rhythm.”
Two seasons removed from their first championship, the Raptors aren’t at the point of collapsing under the weight of their struggles. But after ranking in the top five in defensive efficiency in each of the previous two seasons, the Raptors entered Sunday 20th before losing 116-105 to the Cavaliers, a loss in which Toronto allowed Cleveland to shoot 17 of 33 on 3-pointers.
The fact that Toronto has lost its defensive identity is an unexpected development. The Raptors dropped to 11th in the Eastern Conference, a danger zone for missing the playoffs altogether.
“Defense is a five-man thing,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “You can’t have three guys out there working their tail off and getting through screens and fighting and then there’s a breakdown here. All it takes is one guy to break down and there’s a wide-open shot or a layup at the rim. There were some discouraging plays there.
“There was great defensive play and there was some really, really disappointing defensive play as well.”
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