We all know that the Rockets can score with the best of them—their 106.8 points per game is tops in the league. Unfortunately for them, we also know that they struggle defensively. Their opponents score 103.6 points per contest, 29th in the league.
This formula has led them to the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference, though they would assuredly be higher if they could play better defense.
With the playoffs looming, there are still some things that the Rockets need to prove before they can have a legitimate case at making a playoff run.
Well, what is it that we don't know?
Who's the Go-to Power Forward?
General manager Daryl Morey's goal at the trade deadline was to upgrade his team, but by dealing both Patrick Patterson and Marcus Morris, he hurt the short-term production of his team at power forward.
Thomas Robinson, an athletic specimen and the No. 5 pick from the 2012 draft, has immense potential in the long-term scheme of the Rockets. The Sacramento Kings failed to give him sufficient playing time, and the Rockets can promise him more time moving forward.
He does have potential in the immediate future as well, but he hasn't capitalized on that just yet. In six games with Houston, he's scored 3.7 points and grabbed 3.3 rebounds per game while shooting 56.3 percent from the field.
Given his lack of experience and the current lack of confidence head coach Kevin McHale has in Robinson, Donatas Motiejunas has seen most of the time at power forward since the trade.
D-Mo has taken advantage, averaging 9.8 points and 3.2 boards over his last five games.
Neither player has really proven himself to be a difference-maker, thus far, and it's crucial that the Rockets have a clear starter and clear reserve by the time the playoffs role around.
While riding the hot hand isn't a bad strategy, having a player comfortable starting and one comfortable off the bench is better for the team's chemistry.
The Rockets need to figure this out before their first-round matchup.
Can the Rockets Take Care of the Basketball?
Houston is tops in the league in turnovers, coughing up the ball 16.28 times per game. This aspect of their game is hindering the already-best offense in the NBA.
Aside from that, the high number of turnovers is a huge part of the reason why their defense is as poor as it is.
Turnovers lead to quick transition baskets for the other team. With 16-plus turnovers per contest, that gives opposing teams entirely too many chances for easy points. The stats have shown that the opposition has capitalized.
James Harden is the leading culprit on the team. Even though he handles the ball the most on the squad, his 3.7 turnovers per game is an unacceptable number. Harden is an above-average ball-handler—he needs to start performing like one.
Jeremy Lin isn't the best at taking care of the ball either. He's pushing 3.0 per game (2.9) and could definitely be a little more careful when passing and driving into the lane.
As the team's point guard, Lin should assume the responsibilities of holding onto the ball.
Until we see the Rockets be more careful with the ball, I'm not so sure they can make a run in the playoffs. Top teams don't turn the ball over 16 times a game.
Can the Rockets Win Close Games?
The Rockets have the third-worst record in games decided by less than three points in the Western Conference. They are 3-5 in those games, while the Dallas Mavericks are 3-6 and the Minnesota Timberwolves are 2-7.
The Mavericks and Timberwolves are not playoff teams, so their problems in close games are at least understandable.
Which unknown is the most alarming?
The Rockets' 3-5 record just proves that their defense is not capable of coming up clutch and making stops late. Not many playoff games are blowout affairs, so this is something that is exceptionally alarming.
Throw in the fact that they are 0-3 in overtime, and there is plenty to be concerned about.
One fact is extremely obvious when looking at these records: the Rockets have difficulties winning when they aren't blowing their opponents out of the water. The problem is that those games won't come around all that frequently after the regular season ends.
The Rockets need to prove themselves in close games within the next month.