Many see the high-powered offensive attack of the Houston Rockets and think that is all they are about.
They see 107.1 points per game and the fact that they let 26.4 3-point attempts fly each night and immediately assume that defense is a distant second in what they do on the floor.
Houston isn’t nearly as defensively inept from a team standpoint as many who doubt their championship chances say. They are indeed about average with players who can make a difference on that side of the ball.
The addition of Dwight Howard makes any defense better and the Rockets have improved from having the 28th-best opponent’s points per game average last season to the 19th-best this season. That in itself is a deceiving to some degree because Houston’s average of 102.4 this season is only 0.1 better than a season ago. However, that tidbit is easily combated with the fact that scoring is up league wide, so it stands to reason that if Howard wasn’t there the Rockets may still be toiling in the bottom third of that statistic.
Houston’s pace, which is currently fifth at 96.1 possessions per game, also creates more opportunities for opponents to score. A better indicator of how they defend comes in their fifth-best opponent’s field goal percentage of 44.1 percent or the fact they have the seventh-best effective field goal percentage against at just 48.7.
The Rockets are fairly athletic in their starting lineup, especially when Patrick Beverley is healthy. They contest shots and rotate well on the perimeter (with the exception of James Harden) and have Howard as a deterrent at the rim.
Speaking of defending the rim, Houston gives up 43.4 points per game in the paint, which isn’t great at 18th overall. But keep in mind Omer Asik has only been available for 43 games to date and Howard does need to rest throughout their games. If Asik would have remained healthy for the majority of the year, they would most likely rank in the top 15 as teams would not be able to take advantage of the middle void of a true center when Howard rested.
Something they do need to improve upon is in their allowance of second-chance points. They give up 14.7 of those per game (29th in the league) and it’s uncommon for a team that rebounds as well as the Rockets do (fifth overall) to give up that many. Their low ranking would indicate that their first effort defensively is always their best one and they have little resolve when teams get offensive rebounds creating extra possessions.
That needs to be tighter when the playoffs arise.
On a more positive note the Houston defense does a superb job capitalizing on the other team’s mistakes. The Rockets force 14.3 turnovers per game which they translate to 16.3 points in their favor (12th best in the league). The Rockets are murder in transition at 18.4 points per game, which seems to be fueled by the turnovers they create defensively.
Everybody gets it … defense wins championships and the Rockets get it, too.
Houston is not a one-trick pony, they are at worst a pony with a trick and a half. Their offense is vaunted, their defense is about average and their chances for a title are better than some realize.