The Houston Rockets certainly made it interesting against Dallas but also gave us three important takeaways from their first victory of the NBA’s restart.
It’s not every day you see a comeback from seven points down with less than 50 seconds left in the game, but that’s just what the Houston Rockets did on Friday. Behind a blistering performance from their superstar, James Harden, Houston lived up to their old name of Clutch City by clamping down on Luka Doncic and the Mavericks to improve to 41-24 on the season.
On top of showing they can come through in crunch time, the Rockets also showed us three other things to keep an eye on as they continue their pursuit of an NBA title.
The Houston Rockets can protect the rim
The Houston Rockets’ defense is never going to be confused with the Milwaukee Bucks’ gargantuan defense. By design, they have downsized their lineups for offensive spacing and conceded the rim protection that towering height provides.
However, during their 154-149 win over the Dallas Mavericks, they showed that height is not the only way to protect the rim. The micro ball Rockets blocked 10 shots against the Mavericks with Robert Covington leading the way with four. James Harden, a frequent victim of NBA Twitter ridicule over his supposed lackluster defense, chipped in with three blocks of his own.
The Mavericks don’t run a lot of post-ups, but very few teams do in the era of space and pace. The Rockets don’t need to be elite at rim protection. They just need to be good enough and proved that size isn’t everything when protecting the rim.
The Rockets’ defense can get stops when engaged
For three quarters, the Rockets looked like one of the worst defensive teams in the league and it had little to do with the stability of their interior defense. In fact, it was their inability to effectively switch and closeout on players on the perimeter that allowed the Mavericks to score 119 points in only 36 minutes of game action.
Trey Burke in particular benefitted from the Rockets’ lackadaisical defending as he looked like he was engaged in an after-practice shoot around, hitting his first seven 3-pointers with hardly a Houston defender in sight.
In the final frame and overtime, the Rockets flipped a switch and suddenly the Mavericks struggled to find quality looks along the perimeter. The change was evident, as the Mavericks had shot over 50 percent from three heading into the fourth but finished the game at only 42.9 percent from long range.
The Rockets showed that their defense can be a weapon when engaged. Hopefully, the final 17 minutes of the game will convince the roster to bring the same defensive intensity right from the opening tip going forward.
The Rockets need to win the turnover battle
Every NBA team wants to win the turnover battle but no team needs to win it quite like the Rockets, and last night proved it. The Rockets won by only four points but won the turnover margin 9 to 20.
Normally, a plus-11 turnover margin leads to a blowout win but the Rockets needed to steal that many extra possessions because of how many possessions they lost from getting outrebounded 55 to 43.
Micro-ball lineups have allowed the Rockets to generate a bushel of turnovers but against the Mavericks they also took exceptional care of the ball. Of their nine turnovers, six came from Russell Westbrook and only one apiece came from Covington, House, and Harden.
The Rockets are going to need to keep winning the turnover battle by wide margins to be successful and last night showed that they can do it by forcing them on defense and preventing them on offense.
As Houston shifts their focus to the Eastern Conference favorites, the Milwaukee Bucks, keeping turnovers down and defensive intensity will be crucial toward continuing their momentum.