The Houston Rockets will be on national TV every game going forward, which will allow them to shock the world with their suffocating defense.
When most analysts or fans talk about the keys to a Houston Rockets win, it usually involves making shots from downtown or getting out on the fast break. Most people don’t think of defense when it comes to the Rockets. In 2017-18 they were a top-five defense, and unsurprisingly, they had their best regular season in franchise history.
The Rockets defense started slow this year, with them having one of the worst defenses in the league. Since the All-Star break, however, the Rockets have been one of the best defensive teams in the league. Their defense, not their offense, is the reason the Rockets will win this series.
Top shot-blocking defense since the trade deadline.
When the Rockets went all-in on small ball, the first reactions were that they would be destroyed in the paint and have a hard time stopping teams on the defensive end. The numbers don’t bear that all since the trade deadline, however. The Rockets are tied for first with the Los Angeles Lakers with 5.6 blocks per game, and Robert Covington has been a top ten shot-blocker in that span.
Covington’s weakside defense has been a revelation since coming to Houston. The Rockets knew they were getting a great wing defender, but Covington has exceeded even those high expectations.
The Rockets will never be a dominant defense in the paint, but at almost six blocks per game, they show that size doesn’t always matter. The Rockets will need every player engaged in the paint against the Lakers, converging on Anthony Davis and LeBron James when they drive to the basket.
Another aspect of small ball that has been a pleasant surprise is the number of turnovers the Rockets force each game. The Rockets are second in steals since the trade deadline, and by forcing turnovers, it usually gets the Rockets out on the break.
The Rockets have the quickness advantage on both ends, and the key to defeating the Lakers will be forcing turnovers, which in turn doesn’t give the Lakers time to set up their halfcourt defense. The Rockets are number one in deflections in the playoffs and have been near the top of the league all year in this category.
Small ball has helped the Rockets not only limit their turnovers but turn into the best defense in the league at forcing turnovers. The Houston Rockets will make the Lakers an isolation team, which will force them into more mistakes. In the last matchup with the Rockets, Davis had a game-high seven turnovers, and the majority were caused by P.J. Tucker, his primary defender in this series.
The Houston Rockets are the most clutch defense in the league
In the NBA Playoffs, you rarely will have games where one team blows out the other. Generally, as we have already seen, the games will come down to the last minutes of the contest. A lot was made of OKC being one of the most clutch offenses in the league, but what’s been lost is how clutch the Rockets defense has been for a while now.
This year the Houston Rockets are number one in opponents field goal percentage (35.2). They also rank third in opponents’ 3-point percentage (26.9) and third in points allowed in the clutch per game.
In Game 7 against the Thunder, they made several substantial defensive plays, including a James Harden block on Luguentz Dort and Russell Westbrook’s deflection to end the game. The national media may not mention it, but the Rockets are among the best clutch defensive teams in the league, which bodes well in close games against the Lakers.
I believe the Rockets match up well against the Lakers. Los Angeles doesn’t have the guard play to take advantage of the Rockets’ switching defense. Their main strength is scoring in the lane and on the fast break.
The Rockets prefer teams to try and force shots inside, and the Rockets are one of the best teams at not turning the ball over to prevent fast breaks. My prediction: I have the Rockets in 7, starting with a 118-104 win tonight.