Houston Rockets’ Struggles Continue As Trade Deadline Approaches

The Rockets went 1-2 last week, losing on the road to the Philadelphia 76ers, 124-115, on Monday, losing at New York to the Knicks on Wednesday, 109-94, and then winning a nail biter at home in overtime against the Utah Jazz, 127-126. The win snapped a three game losing streak after which the Rockets had fallen to below .500 for the first time since December 2.

On Sunday, Houston opened up the week with a hard fought loss, 116-107, at home against the Boston Celtics in a game which was much closer than the final score may indicate. The Rockets were facing a top tier contender in the Celtics without starting power forward Jabari Smith Jr., starting point guard Fred VanVleet, and backup center Jeff Green. Tari Eason remained unavailable as well. Head coach Ime Udoka started the game with rookies Cam Whitmore and Amen Thompson in the starting lineup offering a glimpse of the team’s future.

After facing a slew of contenders in early January, the schedule eases up this week. The Rockets host the Portland Blazers on Wednesday at Toyota Center, and then go back on the road to visit the Charlotte Hornets on Friday and the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday. If the Rockets want to keep pace in the Western Conference play-in race, they’ll have to capitalize against this inferior competition. That’s easier said than done with Houston still battling injuries. Eason is still unavailable and starting power forward Smith Jr. suffered an ankle injury on Saturday night against Utah. As of Sunday night, the Rockets occupied the 11th seed in the West, just behind the Los Angeles Lakers.

For now, the Rockets continue to trek towards the trade deadline in a season which has felt like a marathon. After their losing streak, Houston is now 15th in net rating (+0.5), 21st in offensive rating (113.1), and ninth in defensive rating (112.6). The Rockets had occupied the top five in defensive rating for most of the season but are currently in a free fall.

The immediately imminent question for Houston is what general manager Rafael Stone intends to do at the trade deadline. The team is in desperate need of a backup center to either spell or complement starting center Alperen Sengun as well as shooting and playmaking off the bench. Stone has the expiring contracts of Victor Oladipo and Jock Landale (as well as the virtually expiring contract of Jae’Sean Tate) as well as draft picks due from the Brooklyn Nets to dangle in trades. How aggressive Stone intends to be is an open question. While Houston hopes to make the play-in this year, the first year of “Phase 2” of the team’s rebuild, the team’s long term future is the primary concern.

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