In the span of six days, the Houston Rockets transitioned from one of the hottest teams in the NBA to one seeking answers and in danger of sliding in the Western Conference standings.
The Rockets suffered their third consecutive loss on Saturday in Charlotte, absorbing a wire-to-wire, 108-99 defeat in which they trailed 20-0 to open the game.
The setback capped a brutal week of results for Houston, which trailed by as many as 21 points in losing to the New York Knicks last Monday before trailing by 30 points in a 120-105 home loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday.
Houston went from threatening to move into second place in the West to dropping into fifth behind the resurgent Utah Jazz and just a half-game ahead of Oklahoma City.
Houston will host the Orlando Magic on Sunday at Toyota Center in need of recovery.
The Rockets will welcome back guard Russell Westbrook, who sat out in Charlotte as part of his protocol with back-to-back games. The Rockets were also without guard Eric Gordon in Charlotte as he continues to battle right knee soreness.
“I’ve never experienced that before: 20-0 is a big deficit to overcome,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “We’re having a hard time righting the ship right now. (Sunday) is a good time to start.”
Orlando claimed a critical victory at Minnesota on Friday, winning 132-118 over the Timberwolves despite losing coach Steve Clifford to medical distress in the third quarter.
Clifford left the sideline with dizziness and symptoms of dehydration and subsequently departed Target Center for Hennepin County Medical Center, where, after additional testing, he was discharged.
Clifford, who took medical leaves of absence while previously working for Charlotte, rejoined the Magic on Saturday for practice in Houston prior to the matchup with the Rockets. But in the immediate aftermath of his departure, concern among Orlando players was palpable.
“It’s tough, man. It’s tough,” Magic forward Aaron Gordon said. “Because he’s a big part of this team. Obviously, he’s really the heart and soul. And it’s sad to see him leave the sideline, it’s really tough. I could feel it in how we started playing. It was like we were a little bit more disorganized. We were much more chaotic without him. But his health comes first.”
Clifford acknowledged on Saturday that he had been ill during the week and was unable to eat. He felt progressively worse during the game and eventually opted to visit with medical personnel.
After getting an IV, Clifford began to feel better. He made clear that his symptoms passed and that he was prepared to steward the Magic in the pursuit of a second consecutive playoff berth.
Orlando, 4-4 since the All-Star break, is in eighth place in the Eastern Conference standings.
“Because I had the heart issue in Charlotte, they did all the tests for my heart, and all those were fine. So we were there for a while,” Clifford said. “I wasn’t concerned (Friday) night because … when I had the heart issue it was different. It was scary. It was a lot of pain.
“(Friday) night I was just so dizzy, so lightheaded. Then when I thought back on it, I hadn’t eaten anything all day, so it made sense to me. I wasn’t even that concerned (Friday) night at all.”
–Field Level Media