Panic isn't setting in, but the Houston Rockets sound like a team that's having a tough time figuring it out against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The Rockets won a tight Game 1 and then blew the doors off the Wolves in Game 2, only to get punched in the mouth in a blowout loss at Target Center in Game 3.
On Sunday, Rockets MVP candidate James Harden said "it's a been a long time" since they've played with rhythm, and head coach Mike D'Antoni believes it's been a couple of months.
"That's why I was worried the whole time about resting guys, doing this, getting out of rhythm," he said, via ESPN. "[People say], 'It doesn't really mean a whole lot.' Eh, it does."
Houston averaged 122.8 points against the Wolves during the regular season, but has been held to 104, 102, and 105 points in three games this series, respectively.
It's a style of play that Rockets blog The Dream Shake refers to as the "Grinding Wheel."
"The ISO-heavy Rockets are the prime manifestation of the Grinding Wheel. It is brutal arithmetic at work. If an opponent is held in contact with a mix of Harden and Paul ISOs and open threes, faces the Rockets defense for long enough, they’ll be abraded into nothingness. The Rockets aren’t moving fast, they aren’t flying around. They’re just grinding, and their talent and commitment wins out, and wins ugly."
Thing is, the Grinding Wheel "should be a regular season device, only," the blog says, noting that it's too hard to win in the playoffs with isolation basketball, even with Harden, who's arguably the best isolation player in the game today.
But as great as he is, Harden has a reputation for imploding during the playoffs. And since his dominating 44-point performance in Game 1 he's been relatively quiet, hitting a combined 11-of-38 shots and just 4-of-18 on 3-pointers.
Minnesota deserves credit for playing with more energy on defense, too. They've held the Rockets 9.7 points below their season average and held their deadly 3-point shooting to just 31.5 percent.
The Rockets can cool everyone's jets with a win in Game 4 Monday night (7 p.m. on FSN and TNT), but if they lose you can bet everything you've got that the Harden and D'Antoni doubters will come charging full speed ahead.