HOUSTON -- The reeling Rockets, who faintly resemble the team that had the NBA's best record last season, find themselves searching for solutions and their lost "swagger" six games into the 2018-19 campaign.
The Rockets are at the bottom of the Western Conference standings with a 1-5 record, tied for the fewest wins in the league. Houston often hasn't even been competitive, as the Rockets already have matched last season's total with three losses by at least 15 points, including a 104-85 rout by the Portland Trail Blazers at the Toyota Center on Tuesday night.
"Right now, we're playing like crap," Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni said. "We're just not playing well. You know, I don't have a whole lot of answers for you now. We'll look, and we'll fight it."
D'Antoni declared after Houston's previous game -- a 133-113 blowout loss at home to the LA Clippers on Friday -- that the Rockets needed to make drastic defensive changes due to personnel not suited to their switch-intensive scheme that was so successful last season. After reviewing film, D'Antoni reversed course, deciding that communication and execution were bigger problems than personnel and X's and O's.
Houston held Portland, which was playing its fourth road game in six nights, to 19 points in the first quarter and still trailed. While the Trail Blazers got rolling in the second quarter, the Rockets remained in a deep freeze throughout the night, finishing with fewer points than they scored in any game last season except the regular-season finale -- when most of the regulars rested.
With reigning MVP James Harden watching helplessly from the bench due to a strained left hamstring, the Rockets shot 32.3 percent from the floor, 23.3 percent from 3-point range and 56.5 percent from the free throw line. Houston never held a lead over Portland and trailed by as many as 28 points in the third quarter, which began with the Blazers making an 11-0 run to bury the Rockets.
"When it goes bad, it goes bad," said Rockets forward Carmelo Anthony, who had eight points on 2-of-12 shooting. "Right now, I think we've just got to keep biting at it, keep fighting, keep playing. I'm big on staying the course and figuring it out. Whatever we have to figure out, I'm sure we will do it.
"It's just a matter of us getting that one win, getting that feeling, getting that winning feeling. It's funny saying that after the team wins 60-something games last year, to say getting back to getting a winning feeling again."
There have certainly been extenuating circumstances to the Rockets' horrible start.
Chris Paul served a two-game suspension stemming from his fight with Los Angeles Lakers guard Rajon Rondo in Houston's lone win of the season. Harden has missed the past two games and the final five minutes of a 100-89 loss to the Utah Jazz, and his availability for this weekend's back-to-back in Brooklyn and Chicago is uncertain. James Ennis, the starter at small forward entering the season, has missed the past four games due to a hamstring strain. Reserve center Nene Hilario is out indefinitely because of a calf strain that has sidelined him all season.
"Ain't nobody going to feel sorry for us, know what I mean?" said Paul, who has played poorly since his suspension ended, shooting 9-of-32 from the floor in two losses. "We don't feel sorry for ourselves. We've got to get better."
D'Antoni said he thought the Rockets looked like a desperate team on Tuesday, losing their poise on offense despite having an experienced starting lineup led by a nine-time All-Star point guard.
"We've lost our swagger and we're on our heels," D'Antoni said.
It's a thought that was reiterated throughout the locker room.
"It's very easy for the negativity to start seeping into the room," Anthony said, adding that he had seen it on previous teams that got off to poor starts. "For me, I'm just here to make sure that that doesn't happen. We don't need that right now, especially not in this locker room. You don't kick a dog when it's down. We're all we've got right now, and we can figure this out."
The one silver lining that the Rockets could find is that it's early in the season, with 76 games remaining on the schedule.
"I'll ask the analytical guys, but I think we're still in it mathematically," D'Antoni said, showing that his sense of humor remains intact. "We'll figure it out, but we've got to play well. The sooner, the better.
"I'm down like everybody else, but I haven't lost my faith. I know we'll get this done. We've just got to get it going."