It was not so much that the Rockets never really seemed in the game, even when the score was close, or that Kevin McHale benched his starters for the final 15 minutes, or even that the Rockets went a second consecutive game without holding a lead, a stretch without leading that is their longest since the 2005-06 season.

The Rockets did not just lose to the Grizzlies 103-94 on Friday night; they were pushed around. Again.

As with their loss to the Pacers on Wednesday, the Rockets were outmuscled and overmatched, especially inside, until they looked like the junior varsity playing against the varsity.

That might have been reason enough for McHale to go with his actual JV, playing his bench the entire fourth quarter. They might not have been able to do much about the mismatch, but they at least stood up to the latest bullies to kick sand in the Rockets’ faces.

“They played really hard,” McHale said of the decision to play his reserves the entire fourth quarter. “They came out and gave good energy, so I thought I’d just go with them.”

James Harden was most conspicuously absent. As much as McHale has shown through two seasons that he will stick with any hot hands, he had always returned to Harden.