"Efenseless" Houston Rockets Need To Find the "D"

Robert Kleeman@@RobertKleemanSenior Analyst IApril 7, 2010

Every time the Rockets lose at home, Journey's "Don't Stop Believing'" follows the final horn.

As Houstonians head for the exits, Steve Perry's impassioned wail blairs from the speakers, urging anyone who will listen to keep hope alive.

Leave it to a sports franchise to ruin a rock classic.

The Rockets last lost 17-plus home games when boy bands ruled the popular music landscape.

The crowds at Toyota Center have seen the city's pro hoops squad break numerous records, many of them dubious in nature.

The Atlanta Hawks ended a 10-game losing streak at the downtown Houston arena.

The L.A. Clippers—yes, the Clippers!—won in H-Town for the first time in their last seven tries.

Dwight Howard's Orlando Magic swept the season series for the first time since the muscular center made the jump from high school to the pros.

The Magic routed the Rockets in both contests.

Games that should have been laughers for a team once in the playoff hunt became laughable efforts.

The Indiana Pacers will finish another miserable campaign with one road triumph against a Western Conference team with a winning record.

That, of course, implies the Rockets will end the year with a plus-.500 mark.

The Sacramento Kings have won 24 games in another lottery-bound season. Only one of those victories came on the road against a winning team.

Then, the Rockets still had a shot at the eighth seed if they could dispatch the lowly opponents remaining on the schedule.

The Kings had other ideas and emerged from a clangfest as 84-81 victors.

The reasons for this dramatic fall are as connected as they are obvious.

Rick Adelman should have expected a defense without a legitimate seven-foot big man to be average.

The Rockets' "efense" for most of the year has been dreadful. Where's the "D?"

Anyone who questioned the value of Yao Ming's presence in the paint should have their answer now.

A 7'6" guy does make a difference, even if he's not Bill Russell when it comes to protecting the interior.

For six straight seasons, the team finished in the top five in every defensive category that mattered.

It will finish out this one 23rd in opponent field goal percentage and in the bottom half in points allowed.

Foes that used to shoot 43 percent when playing the Rockets now shoot better than 46 percent.

The point differential has been heading south since the start of 2010.

The inexcusable offenses are numerous, with none standing alone as the worst.

The Rockets hosted the dispirited, disheveled Washington Wizards last week and managed to eke out a 98-94 win thanks to rookie Chase Budinger's hot hand.

In the first three quarters, you might have confused Andray Blatche for Wilt Chamberlain, the way he was tearing through the Rockets "efense" and grabbing rebounds.

Where's the "D?"

My favorite defenseless performance: when the Rockets undersized frontline made Brad Miller look like Arvydas Sabonis and David Robinson rolled into one.

Miller scored 25 points in the Chicago Bulls' win, two nights after he produced just four in Phoenix.

Really guys? If that was a joke, no one laughed.

The Rockets did knot the season series with the Mavericks, but Dallas scored with such ease in its first two blowout wins that Rick Carlisle might have been tempted to give the waterboy some garbage time minutes.

Put a ballboy in, and he would score at least one layup against these guys.

Who are these guys, anyway?

As much as the squad merits praise for maintaining a .500 record with a litany of injuries and no Yao, it also deserves scorn for a double figure number of choke jobs and listless performances against gotta-beat-em' opponents.

No Western Conference team with playoff aspirations should ever allow the Pacers to rack up 125 points on its home floor.

One night after a gutsy victory in Boston, Houston met Indiana again and stunk up the Conseco Fieldhouse so much even the CEO of Febreze would have dubbed the smell a lost cause.

The Pacers passed the century mark in the third quarter en-route to a 133-point night.

Such inconsistency has marked the Rockets' roller coaster season.

Kevin Martin, Shane Battier, Jared Jefferies and David Anderson missed Friday's contest against the desperate Celtics with various injuries. How the Rockets won that game remains as much a mystery as how they tanked in Indiana.

In other words, call off the detectives.

When GM Daryl Morey talks about his acquisitions, he makes sure to use the word "championship" in the same sentence. He would also be the first to remind you that all of his celebrated work has yet to yield a Larry O' Brien trophy.

If the Rockets ever want to reach that level with this mostly young and ultra-talented group, defense must make a loud return. It must lead the way.

Commendable coverage did make a few cameos. The Cleveland Cavaliers scored in the 80s as much as LeBron James topped the 40-point plateau. They managed just 85 in a loss at Houston.

That game was a nice reminder of the Jeff Van Gundy days and most of Rick Adelman's tenure.

Adelman preaches stops as much as his predecessors did, but the players must execute his commands.

The season-long pattern, as pointed out by Houston Chronicle Rockets beat writer Jonathan Feigen, is all too familiar and disturbing.

Win at San Antonio. Lose at home the next night to Chicago.

Win at Memphis. Lose at home the next night to Philadelphia.

Win at Boston. Lose by more than 20 at Indiana.

Title teams never exhibit such erratic behavior. Even the slumping L.A. Lakers know better.

For every sign of promise, there has been a roadblock.

The Rockets decided to run more than they ever have because Yao's absence necessitated a faster tempo.

The fun but dangerous practice of trying to outscore the other team every night is a recipe for missing the playoffs.

The Phoenix Suns can get away with it because of Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire, who pick-and-roll foes to death.

The Rockets don't have those guys.

No one in touch with reality considers Phoenix a serious threat in the Western Conference.

The Lakers defense may be less than ideal for a defending champion, but they don't allow 105 points a night.

Aaron Brooks, Budinger, Kyle Lowry and the other youngsters need only look a few years back to see how far Phoenix went with its spotty, matador defense.

If you think Robin Lopez blocking a few shots a game changes anything, get real.

Louis Amundson's relentless hustle on the defensive end stands out, but he cannot stop entire teams by himself.

The Rockets should look at the inter-state rival San Antonio Spurs' play of late as a means for inspiration.

The Spurs have been getting stops that matter in games that matter.

The Rockets did this when they had Yao.

They must do it next year if they hope to be more than a fun outfit that wins a few games it has no business winning.

The playoff-ready Rockets fended off tough teams, and even the weak ones, with consistent stretches of dominant defense.

Sunday evening, they were content to let Josh McRoberts unleash his inner Hakeem Olajuwon.

And yes, Olajuwon should be insulted by the comparison.

After scoring zero points versus the Miami Heat, McRoberts doused Houston with 18 points, on eight-for-nine shooting, and grabbed 12 rebounds. He averages four points and two rebounds.

When 6'6" center Chuck Hayes plays major minutes against opponents with size, he becomes a frequent liability on both ends.

If Yao returns and Morey can find another defensive-minded seven-footer, Hayes can become an advantageous spot minutes, defensive specialist again.

The valuable work he does on post behemoths like Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett (work with me here) cannot be disputed.

The Rockets stole a victory in Beantown because they found ways to circumvent the Celtics' defensive gameplan. Aaron Brooks's game-tying 3 was a thing of beauty.

It was also a shot no player can be counted on to make with regularity.

When the Rockets season ends, so too must the score-first mentality that has been equal parts boon and bane.

Morey and Adelman employ enough athletes with lateral quickness to return to the ranks of the defensive elite.

Even rookies Budinger and Jermaine Taylor have shown some aptitude in that department.

Scola will always give his best effort. His hustle means more and his size hurts less when his starting frontcourt mate is 7'6" instead of 6'6".

That Battier leads the team in blocks and games missed due to injury (excluding Yao, of course) makes the need for a swat artist more glaring.

The quest to finish with a respectable, winning record—even if a playoff berth is out of the question—continues tonight against the Utah Jazz.

Much like the Celtics and Spurs last week, the Jazz will eye the game as a must-win.

The Jazz can smell the second seed. So can the Mavericks, Nuggets, and Suns. Even the Spurs seem just a winning sniff away.

The Rockets will want to remember how they responded against the Celtics. They should want to forget the facile manner in which the Spurs torched them two nights prior.

Adelman should also play footage from Tuesday night's fourth quarter on a loop as his players dress tonight.

Then, the Rockets found the "D" and pulled away from the Memphis Grizzlies at the FedEx Forum to sweep the season series 4-0.

If the team could do that for more of the 82 games, Perry's plea to "hold on to that feeling" wouldn't sound so obnoxious.


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