ATLANTA – The Houston Rockets walked off the Philips Arena court in disgust on Saturday night. Those who lingered said hello to former teammate Dwight Howard, who was in a celebratory mood after his new team, the Atlanta Hawks, defeated the Rockets 112-97.
Trevor Ariza, the veteran forward, had a calm conversation with one of the officials before leaving for the locker room after the final buzzer.
The stat sheet looked pretty embarrassing for the Rockets. There were a season-high 25 turnovers, leading to 35 points for the Hawks. Houston scored just 13 points in the fourth quarter, tying a season-low for any period.
There was another fine performance by James Harden, who had 30 points and 12 assists. But he also had a game-high six turnovers and was minus-8 in the box score.
Ryan Anderson -- the high-priced, free-agent power forward -- took 13 shots, just four in the second half, to finish with 12 points. Eric Gordon, the other high-priced, free-agent shooting guard, missed eight of 11 shots.
Corey Brewer, a key veteran off the bench, missed all three of his shots, two of them 3-pointers. On the season, Brewer's 3-point field goal percentage is now a dismal 25 percent.
It was a difficult loss to accept for the Rockets, given that all they had the last two days was a Friday afternoon practice/film session.
"Sometimes it could be that, who knows," Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni said. "I do know Monday comes (against Washington), and we have to pick ourselves up and go play, and at some point we got to guard a guy. We didn't really get down and really guard. We weren't tough, we didn't battle them hard enough."
Those words should resonate in the locker room given the Hawks snapped a two-game losing streak after they played poorly in a loss at Washington on Friday night.
"Give them credit," D'Antoni said of the Hawks. "They were more desperate than (us). We didn't play with a lot of urgency, turned it over 25 times; you can't do that on the road and think you're going to even have a remote chance to win."
Not playing with a desperate feel or an edge is disturbing this early in the schedule. The Rockets opened the season playing seven of the first eight on the road, a strenuous task for any team. But considering that division opponents Dallas and New Orleans are a combined 0-11, the Rockets have a chance to get some early separation.
The Rockets' goal should be to leave the struggling squads way behind and find a way to surge past the other .500 teams in the Western Conference.
Houston is still searching for that level of consistency and for people to believe in them. The next two road games, Monday at Washington and Wednesday at San Antonio, should be played with a sense of urgency on both ends.
"We had too many breakdowns defensively," Harden said. "It's tough -- any given night if we had that many breakdowns, teams are going to score. We just have to be better on that end, and that's going to help our offense."
Yes, the defense was unacceptable, much like it was opening night against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Atlanta capitalized on backdoor cuts, using Howard in the post and getting layups. D'Antoni said the Rockets allowed 17 first-half layups. The Rockets gave up 62 points in the paint Saturday and watched three Hawks score at least 20 points, including Howard, who was strong in protecting the rim. He had a two-handed block on an Ariza drive and made a spectacular one-handed block on a K.J. McDaniels dunk attempt, only to be whistled for a foul.
Howard even accidentally elbowed backup center Montrezl Harrell in the face.
It was his physical brand of ball, playing with an edge, an edge that was missing on Saturday from the Rockets.
It must show up Monday.
"Today was a tough day for us all the way around," Ariza said. "We couldn't stop anybody, we turned the ball over. Just got to do a better job of coming out with the same intensity every night."