Slow-starting Rockets lose to Blazers; time for shakeup?

HOUSTON -- It might be time to break up the band. It's just time.

The Houston Rockets were beaten -- embarrassed really -- 96-79 by the Portland Trail Blazers during a sleepy Saturday afternoon at the Toyota Center.

Once again, a poor start hurt the Rockets, and unlike in Phoenix when interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff benched the starters, which sparked a victory, there was only so much he could do.

The Rockets are a poor defensive team, with bad rotations and a lack of commitment from the players to participate on defense consistently.

"We just lack energy early," Trevor Ariza said. "Just a lack of effort, sometimes a lack of concentration. It definitely bothers me, but we all have to police ourselves and hold ourselves accountable when we come out like that. Again, a very poor start."

After the Rockets reached the Western Conference finals last season, a majority of the players made the case to GM Daryl Morey to keep the team together. Morey, a man who believes in upgrades, did so. And what has it gotten him and owner Leslie Alexander? A 27-26 record and a team not even close to being elite. And with two games left in the first half of their season, at Golden State and at Portland, the ability to finish as the No. 8 seed seems more realistic by the day.

"Right now we're playing like our record, we're playing bad," Dwight Howard said. "But we have to think and believe we can win and get better. We got the second half of the season coming up, so I think this is a time for us to really focus on how can we come back in the second half of the season and make that turnaround."

Of course, Morey could change some of this by making a few trades. But the moves from the offseason have the Rockets over the luxury tax threshold so Morey, much like Bickerstaff, is stuck with this roster. The Rockets can't take on any high-salaried players unless they make a blockbuster deal to shake things up.

Morey traded for Josh Smith a few weeks ago and that prompted a three-game win streak, but now reality is settling in and the Rockets need more help.

This current roster has played too inconsistently for far too long. The Rockets are just a mess and what we saw Saturday doesn't give you the confidence things will get better.

James Harden and Bickerstaff said it's up to the front office to make those decisions.

A lack of consistency has hurt this team the entire season. Just when it look as if things are looking up, the Rockets follow a three-game win streak with a three-game skid. And after back-to-back wins over Miami and at Phoenix, an opportunity to defeat a Portland team that's three games under .500 was missed.

The Rockets did play much better in the second half on defense, but the first half was just so bad.

"It wasn't a matter of where to go," Bickerstaff said of the defense. "I think it was clear ... you go to the open man, again, two games in row I felt like our starts were subpar."

The Rockets shot 33.3 percent from the field in the first half, making only 13 shots, and trailed 55-36 at the break. What was so bad was that only four Rockets scored points in the half -- Patrick Beverley, Harden, Howard and Ariza.

In the third quarter, the Rockets made only four shots and couldn't take advantage of the Blazers' own struggles as they made only seven of 22 attempts.

When the game was nearing its end, Harden was sitting out, icing a slightly swollen middle finger. He said it was pointless to return when his team mounted a comeback, and who could blame him. He finished with 33 points, 15 from the line, but it was worthless.

The final box score will say the Rockets allowed 20 offensive rebounds, gave up 30 points on 23 turnovers and watched six Blazers score in double figures.

It feels as if when the Rockets take two steps forward they take two steps back.

"It definitely feels like that," Harden said. "We got two games before the All-Star break. We got to really go for two wins and see what happens from there."