In terms of offensive execution, you can't get much better than the 2012-13 Houston Rockets. The proof is in the numbers, as they rank in the top 10 in almost every major offensive category.
Unfortunately, Houston's putrid defense continues to outweigh its offensive brilliance.
Thus far in the 2012-13 season, the Rockets rank second in the NBA at 106.1 points per game. Houston is also sixth in field-goal percentage, eighth in three-point field-goal percentage and sixth in assists per game.
Unfortunately, the Rockets rank 29th in scoring defense.
These are the numbers that have shaped Houston's season. While they continue to run up the score on opponents, they fail to prevent their opponents from doing the same.
No matter how dominant their offense may be, consistent shootouts are a perfect way to lose games. And so they have.
The Rockets boast the second-worst record of any team in the top 10 in scoring offense. The only team behind them is the Dallas Mavericks.
The difference is, Dallas is 9-5 during their past 14 games and Houston is 7-7. One of those seven losses happened to come against those very Mavericks.
Losing to your competition for the eighth seed in the Western Conference isn't the proper route to success.
This recent stretch of failure has left the Rockets in an uncomfortable position as they make a push for the postseason. Although there is reason to trust their offense, their scoring defense is a severe vulnerability.
Perhaps most concerning of all is the fact that this is not actually a recent struggle. It's become the way of the team.
Just check the numbers.
More Than a Rough Patch
Since their 125-112 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Jan. 8, the Houston Rockets have fallen apart. That is not an exaggeration, but instead an exact description of what has happened to Kevin McHale's squad.
Can the Houston Rockets improve defensively with their current personnel?
Over their past 18 games, the Rockets are just 7-11.
In that time, the Rockets are scoring 104.9 points per game. Unfortunately, they're also allowing an average of 102.2 points per game.
They've allowed at least 100 points in 12 of 18 outings and are letting up an average of 110.8 points per game over their past four. The record speaks volumes, as a positive point differential is meaningless.
The Rockets' defense fails to show up on too consistent a basis.
Fortunately, Houston is closing out strong from an offensive perspective. Thus far in 2012-13, they rank second in fourth quarter points per game.
Unfortunately, Houston is also 25th in opponent fourth-quarter scoring. During their past five losses, Houston is allowing 29.0 fourth-quarter points per game.
In other words, the Rockets' defensive woes are beginning to outweigh their offensive firepower.
In turn, Houston is just 2.0 games ahead of the Portland Trail Blazers for eighth in the West. Most threatening of all, they're only 3.5 games ahead of the star-studded Los Angeles Lakers.
Their recent stretch of failure is more than just a rough patch. This is a full third of the season in which Houston's defensive failures have been more powerful than its offensive execution.
Should any of the teams behind them suddenly heat up, Houston could be on the outside looking in come the playoffs.
Cause and Potential Responses
With their current state of defensive inefficiency, one can't help but wonder why the Houston Rockets are performing so poorly. After all, general manager Daryl Morey put on a rather masterful performance during the offseason.
Unfortunately, Morey's successful deals failed to bring in any form of defensive specialists.
Thus far in 2012-13, the Rockets rank 24th in opponent three-point field-goal percentage. Houston also ranks 16th in opponent points in the paint per game.
In other words, the Rockets lack perimeter containers and interior stoppers.
Omer Asik may be a productive player, but he gets by on energy more so than fundamentals. This is why his average of 1.2 blocks per game fails to show how inconsistently he's protecting the rim.
Preventing second chance scoring opportunities with his rebounding is a step in the right direction. With that being said, there is more than one footprint to follow.
Alongside Asik are the likes of Marcus Morris and Patrick Patterson. Both are quality players who deserve significant minutes, but they're also combining for 0.9 blocks per game.
It doesn't get much prettier along the perimeter.
Jeremy Lin, James Harden, Chandler Parsons and Carlos Delfino combine for one of the better offensive perimeters in the NBA. There are quality ball-handlers, shooters and slashers all around.
Unfortunately, Parsons is the lone player who thrives on defense.
The Rockets may force turnovers, but they're also undisciplined when it comes to closing out on shooters. As a young team, they're prone to ball watching and attempting to disrupt the passing lanes.
When they fail, there's often a wide-open man.
The only solution, at this stage, is to execute a deal come the trade deadline. The Rockets lack the personnel to improve in any other manner, as they are offensively loaded but defensively inept.
Until that changes, it will be a long road to the postseason for this hopeful Houston squad.