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Is it really too early for the Houston Rockets to panic?

James Harden #13 and Russell Westbrook #0 of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)
James Harden #13 and Russell Westbrook #0 of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)
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The Houston Rockets have had a very rough start to the season and they have not lived up to their lofty expectations. Is it still too early to hit the panic button?

On Sunday evening, the Houston Rockets were absolutely blazed by the Miami Heat. With 8:45 left in the opening period, the Heat took their first double-digit lead. By the end of the first quarter, Miami led Houston 46-14. With 8:06 left in the second quarter, the Heat were ahead 59-18. There was still nearly three quarters of basketball left to play, but the game was essentially over before it really started.

The issues that plagued Houston against the Heat are the same things the Rockets have struggled with all season. They couldn’t knock down open shots, they were careless with the ball, they were out hustled on 50/50 plays and they can’t get stops on defense.

Luckily, the Rockets are still 3-3, but all three of their wins have come against teams that are very unlikely to make the playoffs and Houston had to come back from double-digit deficits in two of those wins. The Rockets haven’t had an impressive game from start to finish all season.

Houston’s defense has been absolutely horrendous, as the Rockets rank 29th in defensive efficiency through six games. Only Golden State’s defense has been worse, but the injury-riddled Warriors have eight players on their team who are 23 years old or younger, so that isn’t saying a lot for Houston.

Why is Houston’s defense so bad? Well, for starters, they’re giving up 50 points in the paint per game. The Rockets are a smaller team, and Mike D’Antoni likes to play a lot of small lineups with 6-foot-5 P.J. Tucker at center. Without a shot blocker in the game, opposing teams have no problems driving the lane and finishing over Houston’s defense.

The other huge problem Houston has defensively is that they don’t defend the 3-point line. The Rockets are allowing their opponents to make 17.3 3-pointers per game on 43.3 percent shooting, which are both dead last in the NBA by a wide margin.

For a team that heavily relies on the 3-pointer on offense and is so well-versed in advanced analytics, one would assume that Houston would run opposing teams off the 3-point line in order to preserve their advantage on offense. Unfortunately, poor rotations and a lack of effort to close out on perimeter shots has allowed opponents to beat the Rockets at their own game.

After the Rockets were blown out of South Beach, Mike D’Antoni said the team isn’t in trouble yet, but they will be if they don’t embrace a real sense of urgency.

D'Antoni: "We're not in trouble, but if we think we're not in trouble, we're in trouble." Said Rockets need "appropriate fear." The word "soft" in there, too.

— Jonathan Feigen (@Jonathan_Feigen) November 4, 2019

The Houston Rockets are just six games into a long 82 game season, but it’s definitely not too early to panic. Sure, the Rockets are shooting just 30.7 percent from beyond the arc, which is concerning, but it’s just a temporary shooting slump. James Harden and Eric Gordon will start to knock down shots eventually.

However, Houston’s terrible defense and lack of effort are reasons to panic. This team preaches to the media about defensive effort, but just like last season, they don’t actually practice it on the court. There’s too many miscommunications, too many wide open 3-point shots and layups allowed, too many times when Houston’s defenders are caught standing flat-footed while an opponent makes a backdoor cut for a layup at the rim.

The Rockets are also too reliant on the 3-point shot, and when you live by the three, you die by the three. The Rockets took 48 3s against Miami, despite making just 14. The Rockets also took 48 3s last Friday against Brooklyn, but made only 12. If the 3’s aren’t falling, why not prioritize driving to the hoop and scoring in the paint or at the free throw line? After all, the Rockets have James Harden and Russell Westbrook, who can get to the paint on nearly every possession.

Poor defense, a lack of size and effort and over reliance on the 3-point shot are some of the same problems the Houston Rockets had last season, and the team hasn’t addressed those issues. The Rockets could definitely make a few roster moves, but the offensive and defensive systems need to be tweaked or changed completely, so maybe a change to the coaching staff is in order.

Next. Player grades from Rockets’ nightmare night against the Heat

Anything less than a championship will be a disappointment for the Rockets, and they haven’t looked anything like a championship team this season. For ownership, it’s about time to press the panic button and address some of these glaring issues.

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