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Defense (or lack of) at heart of Rockets’ troubles

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Too often this team, opponents have dominated the Rockets on the boards, including the last 10 games.

BY: KYLE ADAMS

SPACECITYSCOOP.COM

TWITTER: @KYLE0788

The Houston Rockets are currently on a three-game losing streak, mainly because their interior defense has been completely terrible.

Opposing teams’ offenses are living in the painted area and getting offensive rebounds at will, and this has been a big concern. The Rockets have been outrebounded the last 10 games, something that hasn’t been done since the 1982-1983 season. During that stretch, they’re being outrebounded by 7 ½ boards per game, and they’re surrendering 12.2 offensive rebounds. Most nights, the team who wins the battle of the boards wins the game.

Offense and young athletic players are fun to watch, but defense wins games and, more importantly, championships.

Defense: It’s so frustrating to see 5-foot-11 Ty Lawson of the Denver Nuggets grab seven rebounds. As a team, the Nuggets grabbed 19 offensive rebounds in a 117-105 victory over the Rockets last Friday. Or how about allowing Ed Davis, he of the 6.4 carom per game average, of the Toronto Raptors to grab 15 rebounds in the first game after the All-Star break. In the second game after the break, they let the Utah Jazz bring down 50 rebounds to their pitiful 34 in a 21-point blowout. And, finally, how about in their last game against the Clippers. The Rockets allowed the Clippers’ frontcourt players to bring down 38 of the total 49 rebounds. This is unacceptable; you can’t constantly let the opposing team’s big men push you around.

Samuel Dalembert, and Luis Scola seem to struggle the most. Dalembert was signed to be the defensive stopper in the post for the Rockets, to block shots, box out and get rebounds. But the truth is he has been inconsistent on both ends of the floor since well before the All-Star break. Statistically, this is his worst year rebounding at 7.3 per game since his rookie season in Philadelphia in the 2001-02 season. His blocks are still consistent, but he’s getting pushed around on the block by pretty much whoever goes against him. At times, he even looks disinterested in fighting for boards or stopping big men from backing him down.

Scola’s defense has gotten even worse, if that’s possible. His new philosophy seems to be flopping before he even tries to make an attempt at stopping his opponent. He’s a step slower, gets pushed around by everybody that challenges him, and even though he’s never been exactly a high flyer, he seems to have forgotten how to jump, or box out. To the casual fan, boxing out may not be a big deal, but it’s huge. If you don’t box out, you give your opponent opportunities at second-chance points, and sometimes even third-chance points. Easy putbacks can be a devastating blow, suck the life out your team, and make the coach’s face turn the color of your jersey. This is Scola’s worst year of his career when it comes to rebounding and overall defense. This year he’s averaging 6.1 rebounds. His rookie year, he pulled down 6.4 a game. For his career, he averages well below one steal and one block a game. He brings nothing but offense, and even that’s declining rapidly. The Rockets’ big men make average players look like stars on a nightly basis, giving up more than 40 points in the paint every night.

If I’m coach Kevin McHale, I would start giving rookie power forward Greg Smith more playing time. He hasn’t gotten much since joining the Rockets from the D-League, but he has shown flashes of good defense in the post when he’s actually played. He’s only 21, and still maturing. But with Dalembert struggling in the post, give Smith more of an opportunity and see if he can bang with the other centers in the league.

I also think Patrick Patterson should take even more minutes from Scola than he already has. And how does 7-foot-5 Hasheem Thabeet still have a roster spot? He never sees the floor even in garbage time, and he makes over $5 million a year. Send him to the D-League, trade him or cut him. He gives you nothing, and I think it’s safe to say the former No. 2 pick in the draft is a bust.

Kevin Martin’s defense is erratic to say the least. It seems like he picks and chooses when he wants to guard somebody. Courtney Lee has been playing great of late and I believe he should take minutes away from Martin. If I’m the Rockets, I start shopping Martin and Scola even harder. This team is a playoff team potentially, but not a championship team. Give the younger guys a shot at starting, or go out and get the star big man you so desperately want (preferably Pau Gasol). Kyle Lowry and Chandler Parsons are the only starters who give you above-average defense.

Upgrade, please.

Flopping: If you watched the Rockets and Clippers game Sunday night, you might have noticed a new trend the Rockets have picked up. Flopping. It seemed like every play, you saw a guy flying around like he had been hit by the Incredible Hulk. And most of it came from Luis Scola.

Flopping is for people who can’t stay in front of their man and try to bail themselves out by cheaply trying to draw a foul while the refs look at you with a smirk on their face. Kyle Lowry seemed to take notes from Scola and joined in on the bad acting, flopping around like a fish while Chris Paul torched him, mostly in the painted area, for 28 points and 10 assists and some huge baskets down the stretch. I even saw Courtney Lee flop once at the end of the game.

Referees barely call flops as it is which means they’re definitely not going to call them at the end of the game when everything’s on the line. Flopping is a bail-out for bad defenders. But on this night, the referees didn’t let them get away with it. And the outcome was a loss. Nothing gets under my skin more than a flopper, and I hope the NBA does something soon to try and remove it from the game.

If the Rockets want to end this losing streak, they need to focus on their defense. They play in Boston against the Celtics on Tuesday, with Rajon Rondo coming off one of the best performances I’ve ever seen with a triple double of 18 points, 20 assists, and 17 rebounds. They will need to find a way to keep him out of the paint, which is where he lives at and where the Rockets struggle. If the Rockets want to make a serious run at gaining some ground in the Western Conference, they have to do a better job on interior defense, boxing out, rebounding and keeping point guards out the paint. They have dug themselves a big hole just a week out of the All-Star break, dropping from fourth to seventh in the West in a matter of four games. I just hope they don’t flop around in it.

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