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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Houston has lost seven of eight

Mariners ride big fifth inning to series win over Astros

Jake Odorizzi earned his second loss as an Astro Sunday. Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images.

With the losing streak behind them by taking the middle game on Saturday night, the Astros returned to T-Mobile Park on Sunday afternoon to try and make it back-to-back victories to take the series. Instead, they'd suffer their seventh loss in the last eight games.

Final Score: Mariners 7, Astros 2

Astros' Record: 7-8, fourth in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Ljay Newsome (1-0)

Losing Pitcher: Jake Odorizzi (0-2)

Odorizzi locks in through four while Houston grabs a lead

Jake Odorizzi did not start his afternoon the way he needed to in order to have a good rebound outing compared to his first start. In the 37-pitch first inning, he issued two walks and an RBI-single, putting the Mariners at a significant advantage early. Odorizzi flipped the switch, though, finding a rhythm to retire the next ten batters after that RBI-single to get through four innings with just one run allowed.

Offensively for Houston, they quickly responded to Seattle's run in the first with one of their own in the top of the second, capitalizing on some shoddy defense by Seattle to get Carlos Correa to second to set up an RBI ground-rule double by Aledmys Diaz, tying things up 1-1. It stayed that way until the top of the fifth when a leadoff walk by Chas McCormick would turn into a run after a stolen base and two sacrifice flys to give Houston a 2-1 lead.

Mariners explode for four in the fifth

The lead was short-lived, as Seattle would explode in the bottom of the fifth, getting a leadoff single and one-out walk to set up a two-RBI triple by Mitch Haniger to go ahead 3-2. That would prompt Dusty Baker out of the dugout to end Odorizzi's day and move on to Brooks Raley. Raley would not fare any better, giving up a two-run homer to Ty France to extend Seattle's new lead to 5-2. He would finish the inning, putting Odorizzi's line final: 4.1 IP, 3 H, 4 ER, 3 BB, 7 K, 89 P.

Seattle takes the series

Seattle would strike again in the bottom of the seventh against Joe Smith. After a leadoff walk, the Mariners would get back-to-back one-out RBI-doubles to extend their lead to 7-2. After Smith in the seventh, Peter Solomon would make his major-league debut in the bottom of the eighth and work around a one-out walk for a scoreless inning. Houston would then come up empty in the top of the ninth, dropping the finale and the series to Seattle.

Up Next: The Astros will travel to Denver tonight and get an off day tomorrow. Tuesday night, they'll start a quick two-game set with the Rockies at 7:40 PM Central. Houston currently has Lance McCullers Jr. (1-1, 5.27 ERA) penciled in as their starter, but with ongoing illness, he has not yet been fully confirmed. For the Rockies, Jon Gray (1-1, 2.87 ERA) is expected to start.

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