Fewer than 10 days ago, the Houston Rockets appeared to have discovered something defensively that could inspire them to greater success and reshape the remainder of their season.
But after limiting the Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns to fewer than 100 points in back-to-back victories to open a seven-game homestand, the Rockets again have come undone defensively.
Houston dropped its fourth consecutive game on Wednesday, blowing a 15-point, second-half lead while falling 116-110 to the Orlando Magic in the penultimate contest of that homestand, with the finale set for Friday against the Dallas Mavericks.
The Rockets, according to NBA.com, have allowed 116.5 points per 100 possessions during their skid, with only nine teams posting a worse defensive rating during that abbreviated stretch.
Houston led Orlando 77-62 at the 8:24 mark of the third quarter, but then proceeded to allow 54 points over the final 20-plus minutes of play. The Rockets struggled to score against the absurd length the Magic feature in their zone defense, but the real culprit behind their demise was their leaky defense.
“Get some stops, really,” Rockets coach Stephen Silas said. “We gave up 62 (points) in the second half so get some stops. And then we can beat it (the zone defense) down the floor.”
The Rockets enjoyed a measure of defensive success in their first meeting with the Mavericks this season, limiting Dallas to a then season-low 30.4 percent shooting while recording 19 blocked shots — one shy of the franchise record — in their 101-92 road win on Nov. 16. The Mavericks, who were without star Luka Doncic (rest), made 12 of 55 3-pointers and scored 18 fourth-quarter points.
The Mavericks climbed back to .500 Wednesday with their 104-99 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves, a win that left them at 6-6 this month. Doncic led the way with 25 points, nine rebounds and 10 assists.
Injuries continue to undermine Dallas’ attempts to build momentum, with Dorian Finney-Smith (groin) sidelined Wednesday. Dallas is already without Maxi Kleber (hamstring) and was without Tim Hardaway Jr. (illness) on Monday, although he returned and scored 21 points in the rematch against the Timberwolves.
Even with the rotation fluctuations, the Mavericks continue to push through. The injuries to Kleber and Finney-Smith in the frontcourt led them to move forward Christian Wood and Hardaway into the starting lineup. With Dallas’ rotation compromised, opponents have doubled their efforts to prevent Doncic from dominating offensively.
Against Minnesota, Doncic recorded his 12th game of the season with double-digit assists. And while Dallas shot just 33.3 percent on 3-pointers and its shortened bench currently lacks the requisite punch, the Mavericks have shown an ability to overcome their shortcomings by sticking to their preferred style.
Until they are whole again, the Mavericks understand exactly what is required in order to survive.
“Again, I thought everybody participated (with supplying) the energy,” Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said. “We were connected on both ends and we executed late to get a win here.”
–Field Level Media