The Houston Rockets made the biggest splash in the offseason free-agent market when they wooed Dwight Howard from the Los Angeles Lakers.
Howard, a three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year, figured to help solidify the Rockets while also being an offensive upgrade over Omer Asik.
Well, the Rockets can still score. As for the defense, there’s still much work to do.
The Rockets believed the addition of Howard would put them in contention for an NBA championship. That could happen, but they haven’t found their groove defensively.
Houston entered Saturday allowing 102.5 points per game, tied for 24th in the league. Opponents are shooting 43.8 percent against the Rockets, sixth-best in the league, but Houston averages 16.5 turnovers, 28th in the league.
“Everybody has to do their part on defense,” Howard said. “Everybody has to play defense better.”
Rockets coach Kevin McHale is simply looking for consistency.
“We’ve tried a lot of different things,” McHale said. “We’ve simplified. We’ve changed things. We’ve thrown things out. I’ve tried to focus on the things we do best and try do to those better. I don’t know. We’re going to keep on simplifying it because I know if we’re not doing something well and you do more, it’s hard so the less you do normally the more consistent you become. We’ve narrowed it down about as bare bones as we can defensively for our guys.”
Only one team in the top eight in the Western Conference allows more points per game, conference-leading Portland at 102.6 points per game.
“A lot of times it just comes down to individually defending your man a little bit better,” McHale said.
It also would help if the Rockets did not allow their offense to dictate how they play defense. McHale said that has been a big issue.
“If we’re not scoring, our guys start hanging their heads a little bit and they run down on defense and worry about the shot they missed or why they missed it,” McHale said. “We haven’t gotten to the point when shots don’t go in that we dig in more defensively. Our shots affect us too much.”
Forward Chandler Parsons said the Rockets have to change their approach, especially to start games.
“We have to be the aggressor,” Parsons said. “We can’t let teams get comfortable. We’ve got to make unselfish plays on defense and offense, and we have to prepare for every game no matter who we are playing, like it’s a really good team and a team that is capable of beating us. ... So we have to figure out individually and collectively what we can do and look in the mirror and see how you can help our team win.”
If you thought the Toronto Raptors were trading Rudy Gay to improve their chances of landing a high draft pick, you were wrong. The Raptors are 10-3 since dealing Gay to Sacramento.
The Raptors are leading the Atlantic Division but continue to be in the middle of trade rumors involving starting point guard Kyle Lowry.
For now, the Raptors appear to have found a path to the playoffs, not the lottery.
The Western Conference All-Star team figures to have a different look in the backcourt.
With Los Angeles Clippers All-Star guard Chris Paul going down with a separated shoulder Friday night, the two guards leading in fan voting for the backcourt are injured. Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant is out with a fractured bone in his leg.
Add to that Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook being out after knee surgery, and three of the most popular guards in the West could be spectators next month in New Orleans.
“Most of the time, physical, aggressive teams are going to win in the NBA. ... That’s just the way it is. I thought we were very poor in that area. We should be embarrassed about how soft we played tonight.” – San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich, according to the San Antonio Express-News, after the Spurs lost to the struggling New York Knicks at home Thursday.