Rockets searching for answers after loss to Warriors, 0-2 start

HOUSTON — The Houston Rockets endured a training camp with players missing practice time because of injuries, which caused a lack of continuity on the court, and it has finally caught up to them.

A 112-92 loss to the defending champion Golden State Warriors on Friday pushed the Rockets to 0-2 for the first time since 2010.

The Warriors are the shining example for what the Rockets and several other NBA teams want to be: A 3-point shooting team that pushes the pace and defends the rim and challenges shooters outside. Of course, having Stephen Curry doesn’t hurt, either.

There was Dwight Howard talking about how the Warriors’ chemistry didn’t happen overnight, and the Rockets need more time to find their own.

Yet the Rockets have stumbled to start the season with two home losses by 20 points each, becoming the first team to achieve such a feat since the 1971-72 Trail Blazers.

To put this stat in perspective, Luke Walton, the Warriors’ interim coach until Steve Kerr returns, is the son of Bill Walton, who made his mark with the Trail Blazers.

When the Trail Blazers were going through that bad start in 1971, Bill Walton was a freshman at UCLA.

The Rockets don’t care about historical stats and those types of things. Finishing plays, spacing, a quicker pace, defending outside shooters and basically an overall lack of effort are the problems.

It has forced coach Kevin McHale to use words and phrases like “slow,” “funky,” “not comfortable,” “bad practices” and “no rhythm” when describing his team.

“Our offense is really stagnant,” he said. “We made too many mistakes defensively again. We’re not making plays for each other at the rate we need to.”

McHale said having some bad practices and missing shots mainly has carried over to the games. James Harden is probably at the forefront.

The best player on this team is still trying to find his game.

After two games, Harden has made only 10-of-39 shots from the field and is 3-for-22 from 3-point range. Defenders are not biting on his pump fakes and are avoiding reaching in on drives to the basket, which draws fouls. Harden has taken on contact several times in the first two games of the season and hasn’t been getting the calls the way he did last season.

He’s also missing open looks, and doesn’t have that aggressive nature to his game like last season, when he would just attack a defense with drives to the basket.

Harden looks lost on the court.

“I got a couple of open looks that weren’t falling,” he said. “But a couple of them are tougher shots. My shots are tougher and the guy’s shots are tougher. We didn’t get some really good shots for a long period of time and that puts a lot of pressure on our defense.”

The return of Howard was supposed to mean something around here, and with the Warriors missing Andrew Bogut (concussion) there was a belief things could be easier. Howard picked up two first-quarter fouls, leaving second-year man Clint Capela and rookie Montrezl Harrell to defend the rim.

Warriors center Festus Ezeli had nine points and seven boards, forward Draymond Green had the same, and forward Marreese Speights had 14 points off the bench, some coming from the outside and drawing the big men away from the basket.

Howard was dunked on by Harrison Barnes, which caused Vine users to quickly hit the send button. The Warriors double-teamed Howard whenever he got the ball, forcing him to find willing shooters, who just couldn’t hit many shots.

The Rockets shot 36.6 percent from the field, and the starters shot an embarrassing 28.3 percent.

Howard kept talking about the process and saying not to get worried about things.

“As a team, we’ve got to figure a lot of things out,” he said after his nine-point, seven-rebound evening. “We trust each other and we trust the system to go out there and make plays together. It wasn’t always easy for (the Warriors), they had to go through the process and we have to do the same thing.”

But 0-2?

The Rockets were stunned on opening night by the Denver Nuggets, a team that isn’t expected to reach the postseason. And now the Rockets took on the Warriors, a team that knocked them out of the postseason last season and has now won nine of the past 10 meetings between the teams.

“We got spanked by 20, two games in a row, I would think you would get tired of that,” McHale said.

There’s a game in Miami on Sunday and if this were football, it might be a must-win. With this being the NBA, there aren’t any must-win games in November.

“It’s definitely not (the start we want), but we still got 80 games to go,” Harden said. “All you can do is stay positive and continue to work and trust your basketball instinct.”

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