Rockets face Thunder hoping to ‘stick together’

The skid began in earnest on Jan. 9 with a 21-point loss in Oklahoma City and over the past 10 days, the Houston Rockets have stumbled to regain their footing in the treacherous Western Conference.

Houston has dropped four of its past five games, including that setback to the Thunder, who will visit the Rockets on Monday for a 5 p.m. ET tip at Toyota Center.

With their 124-115 loss at the hands of the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday, the Rockets dropped to sixth place in the Western Conference standings, a precipitous slide from their perch in second place behind the Lakers earlier this month.

The Rockets’ problems range from defensive lethargy to wayward perimeter shooting. Their lack of size and athleticism was exposed by the Lakers, particularly in the third quarter when Houston surrendered an 11-point lead through turnovers, missing 10 of 11 3-pointers and allowing the Lakers to ignite their transition offense.

«It was just us,» Rockets guard James Harden said. «We weren’t getting good shots. Obviously, we weren’t getting back on defense. They were getting cherry-pick layups … things that we can control. We weren’t going to the glass offensively, we weren’t getting back defensively in transition and they got going, especially their role players.»

It is no coincidence that Harden’s struggles parallel the Rockets’ woes.

Harden reeled off seven consecutive games of 50 percent or better shooting from the floor, averaging 36.6 points and eight assists while the Rockets won six of those seven contests. Since that sizzling stretch, the Rockets are 2-4 with three consecutive losses, while Harden has averaged 29.9 points and 6.8 assists on 33.6 percent shooting, including 27 percent from behind the arc.

Russell Westbrook has averaged 32.5 points on 53.2 percent shooting, plus 7.0 rebounds and 8.5 assists over the past four games, but has mattered little to the Rockets’ bottom line. That Houston has dropped three of those games only amplifies the notion that Harden must get untracked for Houston to do the same.

Until then, the Rockets will try to keep the ship from taking on additional water.

«We’ve got to stay positive,» Westbrook said. «When adversity (hits), what are you going to do? You’ve got to look at yourself, stay locked in. It’s that part of the season. It happens. As a unit, as a team, we’ve got to stick together and figure out the best way to put our best foot forward.»

The Thunder cleared a hurdle of their own with a 119-106 home win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Saturday, reversing a skid of three losses in four games since the most recent win over Houston.

Oklahoma City, the Western Conference’s seventh-place team, continues to display impressive resilience, besting Portland despite missing a pair of starters in Danilo Gallinari and Terrance Ferguson.

Their three-guard attack of Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Dennis Schroder remains dynamic, with Paul matching his season high of 30 points against the Trail Blazers while Gilgeous-Alexander and Schroder combined for 37 points (on 14-of-28 shooting) and nine assists.

Having exceeded preseason expectations, Oklahoma City continues to excel at thriving now that expectations have shifted.

«Losing is no fun,» Paul said. «Winning is contagious, and we needed to get that mojo back.»

The Rockets, in the midst of what must seem protracted struggles, understand that sentiment.

-Field Level Media