Hopefully the "Houston, we have a problem" lede doesn't turn into a trope during the 2018-19 NBA season, but the Rockets certainly seem to have a problem after losing to a Utah team missing their star in the middle, Rudy Gobert, who was ejected three minutes in. The loss dropped them to 14th in the West, which is only six games back of No. 1 Denver, but it's still months before they lost their 14th game when they had the best record in the NBA last season. The problem isn't Carmelo Anthony, either, who acted as a scapegoat through the season's first 10 games.
The Rockets rank 10th in offensive efficiency, a far cry from their No. 2 rating last season, but they've fallen to the bottom five in the league for defensive rating (No. 26 as of this writing) as the losses continue to pile up. They were 6th in defensive rating last year, but defensive coach Jeff Bzdelik has returned from an early-season hiatus, so it's not like he's the missing ingredient either. It's no wonder Gordon sounds like he's back playing for New Orleans.
"This sucks," Gordon told Iko. "Even the times where I have good games. We’re just not using some guys the right way. Are we gonna make the right sacrifices? Do we have the right attitude?"
Based on what Gordon's telling The Athletic, no, that doesn't sound like the right attitude. It sounds fatalist despite how they've lucked out with a conference that's still up for grabs more than a quarter of the way into the season. But how do they right the ship to get back to where they were a year ago?
"Last year was the best year I’ve ever had being a part of a team," Gordon said. "We just never had a bad moment. If we ever had a bad game as a team, you knew the next game we would blow somebody out. It didn’t matter who it was." But this year is different, and not just because they lost Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute over the offseason and picked up Melo.
But it's more than just personnel. It's also style of play. You'd think the godfather of today's dominant style of play, Mike D'Antoni and his seven seconds or less offense in Phoenix, would go to hyper-drive with James Harden and Chris Paul, but it's like last year's iso-heavy postseason carried over into this year's regular season. They were 14th in the league in pace last season, and they're 28th so far this year.
"Look how [the Jazz] are playing," Gordon said. "That’s how we used to play. Sharing the ball, getting up and down and attacking. We’re not doing that anymore." Turns out, they're not winning either.