Monday, April 15, 2024

Rockets’ Disastrous East Coast Road Trip Raises Concerns About Defense And Three Point Shooting

Utah Jazz vs. Houston Rockets Game Preview and Prediction 1/05/2023 | The  Wright Way Network

What a whirlwind of tragedy. The Houston Rockets lick their wounds after a horrendous road trip across the East Coast. While facing the Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers, and New York Knicks is no easy task, the Rockets barely put up much of a fight, losing to all three of them with an average deficit of 18.6 points. With a 1-5 road to top it all off, Houston is now 19-21, falling just a game below the final play-in spot.

A huge dip on both ends

Houston’s supposed elite defense displayed throughout the season has taken a back seat since the start of 2024, with this road trip classified as the worst of the stretch. Throughout the first 22 games, the Rockets held the 2nd best defensive rating in the league. The rest of the 18 games? Twenty-first. To go even deeper, since the start of the road trip, Houston is 23rd in defensive rating.

The first two months were anchored by the Rockets’ stout perimeter defense, with Ime Udoka candidly mentioning this as their driving force in the NBA. It has fallen off a cliff since then, mainly due to a lack of effort and injuries. While Brooks returned to the team in the matchup against the Philadelphia 76ers after his oblique injury, perimeter defense remained lousy, as Houston gave up nearly half of Philly’s three-point attempts.

During Friday’s practice, Udoka had this to say about the Rockets recent defense:

“With a younger team, you want to keep giving them reminders of what made us successful early, and the chance to get through and walk through some things and bang around a little bit, it was good for us.”

And it isn’t just the poor defense. The offense has been lacking, specifically on the perimeter as well. The last 15 games has seen Houston ranked as 26th in three-point shooting percentage. Each of the starters—Fred VanVleet, Dillon Brooks, Jabari Smith Jr., Jalen Green, Alperen Sengun— during this recent six-game road trip averaged just 27.7% from deep. Moreover, every single game resulted in their opponent scoring a higher percentage than Houston, including the ugly nail-biting win against the Detroit Pistons. The highest three-point percentage occurred against the Miami Heat, shooting just 34.1% on 41 attempts.

Houston, we have a Jalen Green problem

 

Jalen Green continues to disappoint in his third season game after game, with shooting stats equivalent to calendar dates. His field goal percentage in both the month of January and December is a combined 38.1%, with shooting behind the arc of 31%. The midpoint of the NBA season starts on Saturday for the Rockets and Green has yet to step up to his expectations as the former 2nd overall pick. With three weeks left until the NBA trade deadline, the 21-year-old could be on the move.

Rockets potential star Alperen Sengun appears to be more inconsistent recently, especially on the defensive end. Over his last three games, Sengun’s plus-minus is combined to a -34. While he is still in the top ten in fan All-Star voting, the bulk of the NBA season has definitely caught up to him. He appears lethargic, isn’t making quality passes, and gets picked apart, especially in the post.

Turn the page

The Rockets play the Utah Jazz on Saturday and the Celtics on Sunday at home as part of a back-to-back. Utah has been surging as of late, climbing into play-in qualification. For the Rockets to get their mojo back, three-point shooting needs to improve. In this current day and age in the NBA, making threes is paramount to ensuring wins. It isn’t the 2000s anymore. If you don’t make your threes, chances are, you aren’t going to win many games. This also goes with giving opportunities for teams to make threes.

Ime Udoka and the new veterans added to Houston need to give the young core a wake-up call. This same thing occurred within the past two seasons, with the young core gradually regressing heading into the All-Star break. Find ways to power through the slow weeks heading into the halfway point.

This trade deadline is the most important deadline in years. Why? The Rockets are either on the brink of playoff contention or freefalling into mediocrity. They’ve still got half a season left to figure things out, but a long losing streak could put them right back where they started.

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