JOEL BLANK

Through three games, Rockets defense is invisible

Mike D'Antoni is looking for answers. Harry How/Getty Images

So Saturday night we had "Loogie Nights" in Los Angeles and a fight involving two of the best point guards of our generation in Chris Paul and Rajon Rondo. It all started when Lakers string bean Brandon Ingram decided to push James Harden after a foul and ended with Ingram rushing the pile and throwing a haymaker at the closest red jersey he could find. The end result was suspensions as Ingram got four games, Rondo three games and Paul two games. What this fight did for Rockets fans was distract them from what has been a much bigger pain for the team than any fight or suspension. The real wound rearing its ugly head for Houston early this season is the team' awful defense and inability to stir rup even the slightest desire to stop their opponent.

If you are a basketball junkie like me, it's pretty easy to see where the Rockets shortcomings lie. The defense is a seive and opposing players run through it like tap water through a strainer. The team seems to think the best defensive strategy is outscore the other team and hope they don’t need a stop or get into a tight game late in crunch time. New Orleans took the Rockets to the woodshed by scoring inside, outside and on the break as they stunned the opening night crowd at Toyota Center. In Game 2 the Lakers were made to look like a well oiled machine that could get buckets anywhere and everywhere on the court, instead of a totally new group of players including several misfits from other squads.

In Game 3 the H-town 5 made this years version of the Clippers look like the squad that had CP3, Blake Griffin, Reddick, Crawford and company, instead of the bunch of recycled veterans and youthful exuberance that comprise this seasons team. The Clippers scored at will and attacked the paint throughout the game on their way to the upset victory that sent Houston home 1-2.

There is no team defense, rotating, helping or much switching. There is a ton of finger pointing and head shaking as everyone stands around and watches the layup line locomotive go steaming by. It has to change and fast if this team truly hopes to return to the Western Conference Finals and compete for an NBA title.

Ever since Mike D' Antoni took over the team, all of Red Nation knows their team can score with anyone in the league. Adding Carmelo Anthony to an already high powered offense led everyone to believe the scoring would possibly go up a season ago. The concern started to surface started back in July when Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute departed via free agency. Not a big loss most people said, because they weren't big contributors on offense and each fizzled out in the postseason. Ariza played steady ball all year and over his tenure with Houston, until Game 7 against Golden State. It was then that he joined the rest of his Rockets squad in losing their 3 point shot at the most important moments of the season. Mbah a Moute was MIA the entire postseason after an underrated regular season that had him deeply entrenched in a solid Rockets rotation. He was a spot starter that knew his role and stuck to it and that meant he went all out of defense. What everyone is missing here is that the two players were above average on-ball defenders and key cogs in Jeff Bzdelik's defensive unit that helped to shut down opponents and close out games.They were a top 6 defensive team that could get stops, grab rebounds and win games by doing more than putting the ball in the hoop. Speaking of Bzdelik, fans also are sleeping on how important he was in orchestrating one of the better team defenses in all of the NBA. He got his players to buy in and sell out on the defensive end and that was a huge accomplishment, considering the fact that James Harden and others had a 25 letter alphabet with no "D" in it before the coach arrived in Houston.   

Can it change? The answer is yes. Is there plenty of time to figure it out? Of course there is. Can Roy Rodgers get setted in as the new Defensive Coordinator and get his players to give it their all and commit to the teachings that he will subject them to? They better and they better start soon. Of course Daryl Morey is always tinkering with his team and can get on his friends and family plan of NBA GM's to try and orchestrate a deal or two that can upgrade their roster and its ability to get some stops, but not everyone has the kind of help they need and others aren't inclined to assist. Regardless of where we go from here, the fact is, the Rockets aren’t going anywhere in late June, let alone late May if they don't recognize the problem and start working on the toughness it's going to take to fix it. Toughness that starts in the middle of your chest and not at the end of a knockout punch.

 

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Another tough loss for Houston. Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images.

The Houston Texans lost again as their road game ineptitude continues. Former Texans stars DeAndre Hopkins and J.J. Watt helped the Cardinals to the 31-5 victory.

1. The lack of talent is getting exposed earlier and earlier each week. The Texans have seen games slip away faster and faster from them each week. The team is overmatched almost everywhere.

2. Penalties remain a problem for the Texans. It seems like clockwork the team gets an illegal motion or illegal formation each week. Jordan Akins torpedoed a drive with a chop block. Max Scharping erased a positive play with a hold.

3. Davis Mills had some solid moments, but again, this team isn't good. It is hard to assess Mills with this team. He's making quicker decisions but he doesn't have the time or the players to make big plays.

4. The offensive line stinks. The interior of the line is still a mess and with Laremy Tunsil down the edges find themselves shaky as well. The running backs don't block well. The blocking tight ends don't block well. It is bad football in what was supposed to be a much-improved unit.

5. Desmond King was the best returner in the preseason. The team elected to give Andre Roberts an opportunity for a few games, but with his departure, the duties went to King. King is the most successful returner the Texans have had in a long while. Yes, it is that clear after just one game.

6. Max Scharping was benched in favor of Justin McCray. McCray produced similar levels of success. Scharping was benched last year for a journey-man veteran as well. The former second-round pick isn't getting it done.

7. Speaking of former second-round picks, Lonnie Johnson had an interception. That was the highlight of his day. Otherwise, Johnson frequently has me asking "what is Lonnie Johnson doing?" The former second-round pick at cornerback has been less than impressive at safety. Johnson seems to frequently be out of position or making the wrong choice in coverage.

8. DeAndre Hopkins had a solid day against the team that traded him away. Hopkins hauled in seven catches for 53 yards and a touchdown. After he scored, Hopkins looked to bring his hands together and mimic a prayer motion. I don't anticipate this was a nod to Arian Foster but perhaps could this have been about Jack Easterby?

9. The Texans had some sacks, but little of that action came when the game was close. Jonathan Greenard added two sacks to his total. The success Greenard is having is frustrating when you consider he couldn't get on the field last season. Charles Omenihu returned to action and had some pressures for the defense.

10. During the game reports surfaced that the Panthers might be interested in trading for Deshaun Watson. It was also reported by the Houston Chronicle Watson had vetoed a trade to Philadelphia, so the Eagles will not be involved in the Watson sweepstakes. The Panthers can only trade two first-round picks. The Miami Dolphins have three first-round picks they can trade for Deshaun Watson.

11. The Texans decided on a "culture" head coach in David Culley. His team has looked lifeless on the road. While the Texans took their beating, the Lions gave it their all against a good Rams team. Detroit is winless, but they play harder and better than the Texans. It grows clearer each week "culture" is meaningless if the team can't win.

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