HOUSTON The fizz has settled now in Houston.
Now you hear a lot of things about "funks" and "just putting your head down" and getting "fatherly advice" from the coach. One Rocket or another said all three of those things after Houston's 93-87 loss to the Denver Nuggets (2-3) Wednesday at Toyota Center. The Rockets are 2-2, and inevitable cooling of James Harden appears complete and all the sudden the Rockets are a team that has trouble scoring, but also has trouble defending.
A week ago there was a big party in Houston. Now the sun has come up, the champagne has gone flat and everybody's clothes smell like stale cigarette smoke.
"The game right now feels hard," coach Kevin McHale said. "When I'm watching it, it just feels hard."
James Harden went 5-for-15 for 15 points, three rebounds and two assists. Jeremy Lin was 2-for-9 with six points, six assists and five rebounds. Carlos Delfino came off the bench to score a team-high 19.
Ty Lawson had 21 points and eight assists for Denver, which also got 16 points and 16 rebounds from Kenneth Faried.
The Rockets shot 37 percent and had 18 turnovers to get the uglier end of an homely game. If not for Denver's 21 turnovers, the Nuggets might have run away with it. Instead it came down to the final minute, when swatted away a Harden layup attempt, Houston's Chandler Parsons missed and open 3, and Faried put the game away with a runout dunk with 13.9 seconds left.
And so Houston is soaked with the rainfall of realism.
"Even though we didn't play well, it's still our fourth game together," Harden said. "As the games go on, we'll get better. We didn't have a training camp. We didn't have time to put things together. We're kind of figuring things out as we go."
The Rockets are new to each other, and most of them a relatively new to the NBA. They don't start anybody older than 26, and their two marquee players are just beginning their first full seasons as starters.
Their clunky offense is understandable, but it would be easier to reconcile if things hadn't gone so well the first two games, when Harden went for 37 and 45 in a pair of Houston wins.
Nonetheless, a trend has developed. Houston entered the game shooting 28 percent from the 3-point line, and saw that number go down with an 8-for-33 showing. Lin is 3-for-13 this season, and sent up a couple bricks Wednesday that barely drew iron. He mostly looked like he was only going to shoot a 3 if he lost a dare.
"I gotta get out of my slump," Lin said. "I think hitting my shot will open things up as well."
The shooting, McHale figured, will come. But for now the Rockets sure do grind the gears a lot.
"We're not cutting, the ball's sticky, it's just a lot of stuff we've got to correct," McHale said. "We've got to get better at ball movement, we've got to get better and body movement."
McHale also noted a certain lack of energy, which was inexplicable considering the Rockets were playing at home and hadn't played a game since Saturday.
"We again for the second game in a row at home were just flat," he said. "It's like we're having a really hard time getting the motor going."
It's putting it too strongly to say the Rockets are bummed. It's just more that it has hit them that this is going to be about as difficult as they initially imagined it would be, before Harden so briefly made it all look easy.
They still barely know each other. They're still looking for third gear, and making a heck of a racket.
"It's gonna be sticky for a while," Patrick Patterson said.