JOEL BLANK

Bzdelik's retirement is the biggest blow yet to Rockets defense

Jeff Bzdelik's retirement comes at a bad time for the Rockets. Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Jeff Bzdelik is retiring as the top Rockets assistant coach under Mike D'Antoni. With a little less than 10 days before the start of training camp, the timing of this move seems strange. My first thought is to hope this was purely a personal decision made with fumes in the tank and no desire to grind out another year of extensive travel and tape study. You hope there is nothing wrong health-wise with him or his family and pray that he can walk away from a lifetime of basketball completely at peace with his accomplishments.

He has had just about every job within basketball operations and administration. He has scouted in small gyms and broken down tape until the wee hours of the morning. He has been the low man on the totem poll and the top dog as a head coach, on both the professional and collegiate levels. He has always been known as a hard worker that is willing to put in long hours in a thankless profession in which you are only as good as your last game and rarely outlive your last contract. He carved out a niche as a defensive guru and used that reputation along with his long standing relationships within the game to make himself a "lifer" in a sport he has always loved.

Pat Riley said that there is no one in the NBA that has more knowledge, wisdom or experience in defending today's NBA than Jeff Bzdelik. If you have any doubts as to how valuable and how good Jeff Bzdelik is as a defensive coach, look no further than his last coaching job as the "Defensive Cordinator" of the Houston Rockets. Before Mike D'Antoni brought him to H-town as his top assistant, the Rockets were 20th in Defensive efficiency and 21st in defensive rating, as well as being last in the entire league in defensive rebounding rate.

Houston gave up a little under 106 points per game and had little understanding of team defensive concepts, rotations, rebounds or helping the helper when the ball was in thier opponents hands. In his first year at the helm as the Rockets Secretary of Defense, he got them to climb to 16th in the NBA in defensive rating and this past year they had soared all the way to 6th.

Taking it a step further, over the last two months of the schedule they were the third best team defensively in the entire NBA and thier defensive rebounding had sky rocketed into the top 5, sitting firmly at number 3. The team was a top 2 offense and a top 6 defense and that was enough to set the franchise record for regular season wins with 65 victories. If Chris Paul doesn't pull a hamstring, we all know the Rockets very well could've been sitting on fire trucks, cruising towards city hall, while hoising the Larry O'Brien trophy. As good as Mike D'Antoni has been in leading this team, they would be nowhere near the unit they were without the defensive mind of Bzdelik.

Looking forward, the question now becomes, who will the Rockets get to replace him? After all, this was a guy that has a great rapport with all his players including new addition Carmelo Anthony, as Bzdelik was his first NBA head coach while the two of them were in Denver. He got the team to buy in to what he was selling and sell out to achieve the results they needed to get stops on a consistent basis. On top of needing to be a good communicator and someone that can be trusted, whoever succeeds him has to put the time in necessary to get the roster to respect them and listen to them on a daily basis. All of that takes time and time is not on the Rockets side.

We all know this team can score points with the best of them and D'Antoni has total control of the offense. Coaching defense in the NBA is a lost art and there are very few coaches that have the resume or are as highly respected as Jeff Bzdelik and what he did with Houston. Considering the fact that most of the good coaches that fit the bill and have similar skill sets already have jobs this close to the start of training camps opening in the NBA, Houston could be hard pressed to find a suitable replacement.

After losing 2 of their 5 best defenders this off season and not replacing either Trevor Ariza or Luc Mbah a Moute with anyone close to their ability to get stops, you thought it couldn't get any worse for a team that desperately needs to prevent their opponents from attacking the rim and getting wide open shots. Who knew the biggest blow to their defense was yet to come? Let's hope D'Antoni and Daryl Morey have a good list of unemployed coaches that can step in late in the game and provide the defensive master mind the team desperately needs, because you wanted Bzdelik on that ball, you needed him on it, and now he is gone.

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Houston drops the opener

Angels use big sixth inning to take opener from Astros

Houston's offense started hot, then went cold Monday. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images.

With a 2-1 series win under their belt to start this ten-game homestand, the Astros turned the page to a three-game set with the Angels on Monday night. Things started strong for Houston, building an early lead, but it would erode in the middle innings as the Angels would respond with a big sixth inning to take the opener.

Final Score: Angels 5, Astros 4

Astros' Record: 18-17, tied for second in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Jose Suarez (1-0)

Losing Pitcher: Brandon Bielak (1-2)

Houston Builds an early lead

After a 1-2-3 top of the first by Luis Garcia, Houston would start the scoring in the bottom of the inning. Back-to-back walks set things off, setting up an RBI ground-rule double by Alex Bregman, giving them the 1-0 lead. Kyle Tucker lead the bottom of the second off with a double, then came around to score on an RBI single by Myles Straw, then Michael Brantley made it 3-0 with an RBI double later in the inning.

Los Angeles roars back to take the lead

Los Angeles trimmed the lead to two runs in the top of the fourth with an RBI double, but Houston was able to get that run back on another RBI by Straw in the bottom of the fifth. Things fell apart for Garcia in the top of the sixth, with back-to-back one-out solo homers trimming the lead to one run and ending his night there: 5.1 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 7 K, 2 HR, 92 P.

The Angels didn't stop there, getting two more runs to take the lead off of Brandon Bielak, who managed just one out while blowing the lead. Brooks Raley would enter to get the final out of the inning, then tried to keep the deficit at one run when he returned in the top of the seventh. It looked like things might unravel for him, allowing the first two batters to reach base on a walk and single, but he would battle back to strike out the next three straight to strand both.

Angels take the opener

Joe Smith took over in the top of the eighth, still 5-4, but would get two outs while allowing a double in his three batters before Houston moved on to Kent Emanuel, who finished the inning off. After another scoreless inning for Houston's offense, Emanuel remained in the game in the top of the ninth to keep a walk-off chance alive, and he would do so by erasing a walk to send the one-run game to the bottom half. The Astros wouldn't pull off a comeback, though, dropping the opener to Los Angeles.

Up Next: The middle game of this series will be another 7:10 PM Central start on Tuesday night. It shapes up to be an exciting pitching matchup, with Lance McCullers Jr. (2-1, 3.58 ERA) for Houston going up against the two-way star Shohei Ohtani (1-0, 2.41 ERA) for Los Angeles.

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