Originally Published: January 16, 2014

1. Rockets Run Out Of Fuel In Historic Collapse

By J.A. Adande | ESPN.com

HOUSTON -- Never has the inherent risk of relying on the 3-point shot played out to such dramatic extremes, neatly summarized in two halves that should serve as a cautionary tale to the Houston Rockets.

They went from making 12 of 20 3-pointers in a blazing 73-point first half to missing all 14 3-point attempts while producing the second-lowest scoring second half -- 19 points -- in NBA history as they fell to the Oklahoma City Thunder 104-92 Thursday night. There's regression to the mean ... and then there's diving off a cliff to land in a puddle of the mean.

It's one thing for the outside shots to stop falling. That's going to happen. But the 54-point drop from first half to second half was the largest in NBA history. And the way it went down -- with the offense bottling up while settling for now-contested 3s -- doesn't bode well for Houston's championship aspirations.

Dwight Howard's arrival was supposed to bring balance to the Rockets, giving them an inside presence on both ends of the court. And they are averaging 50 points in the paint per game, up five from last season and good for third-best in the league (They also happen to be third in 3-point attempts per game).

Houston Rockets
ESPN Stats & InfoIt was a tale of two halves for the Rockets at home.

However, Howard is still capable of getting caught up in wrestling matches that lead to double-fouls and double-technicals that can limit his playing time. And there's also the poor free-throw shooting that makes throwing the ball inside to him late in games a gamble.

Howard finished with 11 points on 5-for-13 shooting in the loss, and was diplomatic when asked about his need for more touches.

"We've got to play the right way if we want to win," Howard said. "Once we figure it out, we'll be fine."

Is it the mindset or the way the team is set up? What do they hang their hat on, other than scoring a lot of points when they're hot?

It helps when the opponent doesn't bother to actually guard the shooters, as Oklahoma City was lax to do in the first half. But after Thunder coach Scott Brooks showed his team video clips of every Rockets made 3-pointer at halftime, the Thunder got more aggressive on defense. The offense came along, and things started going their way.

While the Rockets banked on 3-pointers and lost, the Thunder banked in a 3-pointer (by Reggie Jackson) and won. Kevin Durant also hit one as he fell down and executed a backward somersault at the end of the third quarter, tying the score. Then came the 21-9 fourth quarter, and a stunning victory for the Thunder, still playing without the injured Russell Westbrook.

"Hell yeah it was a statement win," said Westbrook, interjecting his opinion to a question asked to Durant.

Durant, always the more diplomatic of the duo, said it was, "Just coming out and getting a win against a really good team on their home floor. We're just trying to build, man, and every day is a process. Today was a good step forward."

The fact is, if the Thunder can do this to the Rockets without Westbrook, they can smoke them in a playoff series with him.

Yes, Oklahoma City has its offensive struggles and sorely misses Westbrook's playmaking ability. Only three Thunder players reached double-digit scoring Thursday -- half the number of Houston's. But one of them was Durant, and his 36 points were more than any two Rockets combined.

To be fair, the Rockets have quietly been an injury-plagued groups themselves, with an assortment of ailments costing them 84 missed games before Thursday. Backup center Omer Asik and point guard Patrick Beverley are still out.

"We're good," James Harden said. "Once we get all our guys back and healthy, we'll be all right."

He still saw warning signs ... and not just from the way this game played out.

"Even when we win ... if we're not making shots, we've got to figure out other ways to make the game change for us," Harden said.

They could learn from Durant, who missed 10 of his first 17 field goal attempts but still scratched his way to 31 points through three quarters by making 15 of 16 free throws.

Or from Kendrick Perkins, whose agitation of Howard made up for his lack of offensive production.

But mostly they can study the box scores from the first half and the second half, and consider themselves warned about living life beyond the 3-point arc.

Dimes past: Jan. 1 | 2 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15

J.A. Adande | email

ESPN Senior Writer

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