Solutions for the Houston Rockets' Biggest Flaws

Jake Lapin@lapin_62094Correspondent INovember 28, 2013

Solutions for the Houston Rockets' Biggest Flaws

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    The Houston Rockets are off to a solid start this season, but it hasn't all been fun and games. There is still plenty of room for improvement. The Rockets need to make some adjustments before they can become legitimate contenders.

    The free throws and threes aren't falling as much as Houston would like. Defense is still nowhere to be found. The Rockets are also collapsing late in close games.

    If Houston can iron out some of these issues sooner rather than later, then the Rockets will be top-tier contenders out west come playoff time.

Keep Shooting the Three

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    Just like last year, the Rockets lead the league in three-point attempts with 26.6 per game. However, they only make 9.3 of those, putting them at 35.1 percent in the bottom half of the NBA.

    The three balls have not been raining in Houston like they used to, but the team is just off to a rough start.

    The Rockets have some great shooters to surround Dwight Howard with from beyond the arc. Guys like Francisco Garcia, Omri Casspi and Aaron Brooks were brought in over the summer for the sole purpose of hitting treys. Other guys like James Harden and Chandler Parsons can also shoot the rock.

    So what's the issue?

    Most of these guys are underperforming. Brooks and Terrence Jones are the only two hitting from deep above 40 percent. Harden, Parsons and Garcia are all shooting below 32 percent, which is well below their normal averages.

    The struggles have been there all season long, but the best way to fix an errant shot is to keep shooting. These guys will find their rhythm before long, and then the rest of the league is in big trouble. Once the threes start falling, Houston will improve on its scoring, which already leads the league.

Pick Up the Effort on Defense

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    Yes, the Rockets lead the league in scoring. How wonderful, except they are second to last in the NBA in points allowed per game at 104.3.

    Houston brought in Dwight Howard, three-time defensive player of the year, to help with their woeful defensive struggles. Howard, along with Omer Asik, has done a good job of protecting the paint, but the Rockets can't stop teams from pouring in triple-digit points.

    The Rockets don't have many perimeter defenders. Jeremy Lin and James Harden are pitiful defenders at times, and Patrick Beverley can't do it all by himself. The Rockets signed Ronnie Brewer to help in that regard, but he hardly sees the floor.

    Perhaps it's time for coach Kevin McHale to make some necessary adjustments.

    There has been a serious lack of effort on that end of the floor. McHale has to focus on defense more in practice and get his players motivated to get stops. The amount of easy layups and wide-open looks for opposing teams is laughable. 

    McHale needs his team to play some defense, and quickly, because when the playoffs begin and the tempo slows down, the Rockets could be embarrassed by a good offensive team, like they have been already against the Clippers twice.

Avoid Late Game Collapses

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    At the very beginning of the season, the Rockets were struggling early in games and found themselves in plenty of big first-quarter deficits. As of late, Houston has been doing better in the first quarter, but instead has been surrendering large leads late in games.

    Houston has given up some big shots on last-minute possessions that have cost them the game. For example, this one. And don't forget about this one too. Just found another one.

    You get the point.

    McHale needs to take out Lin and Harden during key defensive possessions with the clock winding down. When it comes down to it, they are not good defenders at all. There's a reason Daryl Morey signed players like Brewer, so do us all a favor coach and PUT HIM IN. For heaven's sake, how many overtime games must Rockets fans suffer through?

    Obviously, the Hack-a-Howard strategy deserves some credit. Howard's missed free throws keep the Rockets off the scoreboard and stop the clock each time. Houston has let teams right back into the game because of Howard's inability to cash in from the charity stripe, although his percentage has gotten better the past couple weeks.

    When the Rockets have big leads in the final frame, they tend to dwindle on offense. They take their foot off the pedal, while still not playing good defense, and before you know it it's a one-possession game. When the Rockets have a team beat, they have to stay aggressive for the rest of the game, or it will come back to bite them.

    In four of Houston's five losses, the Rockets had a double-digit lead in the second half. They need to work on closing games out, which is difficult to do when your closer James Harden is hurting with a sore foot.

    The other night in Memphis, McHale stuck with his bench during crunch time against the Grizzlies. He stuck with the hot hand rather than just putting the starters back in the game. Omer Asik played all 12 minutes of the fourth quarter, while Dwight Howard didn't play a single minute.

Work on Free Throws

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    It was almost inevitable, yet still disappointing that the Rockets have such a low team free-throw percentage. Teams using Hack-a-Howard have helped contribute to that woeful 70 percent from the line, but it's something the Rockets definitely need to work on.

    In their five losses this season, three of those games have gone down to the wire. The Rockets have lost those games by an average of just 3.3 points, and averaged 12 missed free throws in those contests. Those free throws could have easily put those L's in the W column.

    Do I need to emphasize that free throws are referred to as free for a reason? The Rockets can't be giving games away because of a lack of success from the charity stripe. Free-throw struggles will come back to haunt you, especially during the playoffs.

    We've seen Dwight make 'em in practice, but now he needs to do the same in the game, and that goes for the rest of the big men as well. Harden, Lin, Brooks and Beverley are the only players above 80 percent from the line. No one else is above 75 percent.

    McHale needs to get back to the fundamentals and get his team to cash in on free points.

Crash the Boards on Defense

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    The Rockets are top three in the NBA in rebounds per game, and first in defensive rebounds. However, when it comes to allowing offensive rebounds, the Rockets are dead last, and by a wide margin.

    Houston is not doing well enough when it comes to cleaning the glass on its own end. The Rockets surrender 14.1 offensive rebounds a night, giving up too many second-chance points when they already struggle on defense.

    It's disheartening to see the Rockets play a good defensive possession only to let the ball slip away and negate everything.

    Often times, both big men in the game for the Rockets will go for the block, especially Dwight Howard and Terrence Jones. Dwight and Jones lead the team in blocks per game, with 2.27 and 1.33 respectively, but too often they both go for the block and come up empty. Even if the shot doesn't go down, there is no one left boxing out and it's an easy lay-in for the opposing team.

    The Rockets love to push the tempo and get out on the fast break, but they can't do that if they don't rebound the ball first. McHale was one of the best back in his day with the Celtics, and now he must teach his big men how to secure the rebound.