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[12.25.05] As Losses Mount, Effort Declines as Rockets Struggle Defensively

Discussion in 'Houston Rockets: Game Action & Roster Moves' started by Rockets111, Dec 25, 2005.

  1. Rockets111

    Rockets111 Contributing Member

    Oct 11, 2005
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    As Losses Mount, Effort Declines As Rockets Struggle Defensively

    By Dennis L. Silva, II.

    Whenever one has tuned into a Rockets game the past two ½ seasons, they expect one thing and one thing only: hard-nosed, gritty defense. No one knows how many shots Tracy McGrady will hit, or if Yao Ming will grab fifteen rebounds on any night, but they do expect face-to-face, stifling, pressure defense. They expect to see a team who expends themselves so much defensively that offense becomes a period of rest and relaxation until the next defensive stand. Rockets head coach Jeff Van Gundy has preached defense religiously and knows that any championship-contender must be thorough and definitive on that side of the ball. As evidence of his genius in stopping opponents, Van Gundy has had his Rockets within the top three teams defensively in each of his two seasons as head coach, and this year they are again in the top five. However, the Rockets are in the midst of a moribound drought that has seen them drop three of their last five games due to a plethora of unfortunate injuries to significant contributors. While any offense is expected to suffer dramatically without two of your top three leading scorers, it is on defense in which the Rockets have, arguably, struggled the most.

    As expected, the offense has seen more lulls and gags than any fan can manage to intake. However, the Rockets are doing nothing to stop opponents from waltzing down the lane for easy baskets. Over the past five games, Houston has allowed opponents to shoot 45% from the floor, and average 92 points per game. This coming after the team had rated as high as third defensively in the league, allowing only 41% shooting and only 87 points per game. More alarming is the fact that the Rockets have allowed the opposition 40% (33-82) from 3-point range, and have granted 24 assists per game. Let’s evaluate these factors a little more closely. The statistics prove that the Rockets are not stopping teams from penetrating the lane for easy scores, nor are they guarding the 3-point line very well. Therefore, it’s a no-win situation, and clearly puzzling for a ballclub that has been entrenched in sound defensive principles. The Rockets lag in their defensive rotations, and since there are no able shot-blockers, opponents have found a red carpet awaiting towards the basket. The Rockets have had issues preventing penetration this season but had been able to cover up that fault due to the presence of Yao inside, as well as quick reads from helping teammates. However, there is no Yao, and no Rockets perimeter player is quick or athletic enough to help and recover, therefore allowing either an easy layup inside or an open 3-point shot off a drive-and-dish.

    Defense, more so than offense, is founded upon heart and effort more than talent or athleticism. These Rockets have proven be mentally weak. They look discouraged and lost after any given play, and have not had the mental strength to forget one play and move on the next. As a result, their miscues become one of many, and often occur in streaks. The players that the Rockets have had to cast during recent games (Ryan Bowen, Moochie Norris, Stephen Graham, Lonny Baxter), and will likely have to cast for a few more weeks or so, are either young and inexperienced or veterans who have not played such key roles in any significant amount of time.

    If they haven’t discovered already, the Rockets must focus defensively and practice hard to establish a successful way of defending the ball with the eight healthy available players they have. An extra hour of shooting won’t solve their current downfall because teams will still double and triple team Tracy McGrady (11 ppg, 6-28 shooting over the past two games) and still manage to recover to other players since the Rockets’ active list now consists primarily of specialists and/or young, raw athletes. The only shining light that appears at the end of what has been the darkest and dampest tunnel in recent memory appears to be a recommitment to team defense, helping each other, and protecting the ball. The Rockets have to remember who they are, and that is a team that can get down and dirty defensively, and that no matter what is happening on offense, if they give their all on defense, they can stay close in any given game at any given time.

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