James Harden, Jeremy Lin and the Houston Rockets have loads of talent and youth...but they have their problems, too. And those problems are beginning to affect their season. (Photo : Reuters)
Ah, the mistakes of youth.
If there is one thing the young, run-and-gun Houston Rockets have in spades, it's youth, speed and raw talent. And behind the creative, dynamic play and youth of James Harden, Jeremy Lin, Chandler Parson, Patrick Patterson and Carlos Delfino, the Rockets have been in high gear on offense all season, putting them among the top three offensive teams in the NBA (third with 105.3 points per game.)
With solid passing and sharing the ball, they are tied with seventh in the league with Golden State in team assists with 22.6 per game. And in rebounding, they are also ranked seventh in the NBA with 43.4 team grabs per contest.
But with the good, there also comes the bad.
The Rockets are the worst turnover team in the league, giving the ball back to opponents a staggering 16.6 points per game. They can't protect the ball, at all, and when they come up against championship level teams, Houston ends up paying the price.
Case in point: 124-94 blowout loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, recently. While they forced the Thunder to commit 22 turnovers, 17 of them resulting in Houston baskets, the Rockets gave up a crippling 32 points off 24 turnovers.
By the math, they lost the game on turnovers alone, even without the fact that OKC collapsed the middle and forced Houston to settle for jump shots (an area where they shot a woeful 39.8 percent from).
There were times where they appeared overeager on the passes, throwing their passes too fast and too hard even while forcing OKC to commit turnovers, which resulted in the Thunder getting the ball back almost as quickly. They appeared almost impatient at times with their pass selection, and that lack of patience cost them dearly.
At halftime, just moments after the Thunder went on a 16-0 run to end the half in what was essentially the deciding segment of the game, Houston's assistant coach JB Bickerstaff said they have to take care of the ball better.
"We can't get stuck in crowds and give them opportunities," he said during an interview at halftime.
Houston coach Kevin McHale admitted after the game that he was thinking the same thing.
"I told the guys there's a flow in the game and you've got to recognize that flow sometimes and you've got to know when it's time to make the extra pass, when it's time to be extra careful with the ball,".
They're a young team, inexperienced and still wet behind the ears. They're just learning how to play together. But they're going to have to learn the value of taking time to be careful instead of giving up the ball in a haste.
That 16-0 run also highlighted what has been a plaguing problem for Houston throughout the season-their defense. Specifically, their lack of it.
They let Kevin Durant score 11 of those 16 points by himself. At will. Granted, it's very hard to stop a scorer as gifted as Durant, especially when he gets on a roll, but for Houston to fail to adjust to stop Durant was their own undoing.
And the Rockets, who are tied for second-to-last place in the league in defense, allowing opponents to score 103.5 points against them per night, allowed OKC to score 68 points in the first half in a lackluster defensive effort.
Granted, there were outstanding factors in Houston having played its fourth game in five nights and coming off a draining loss to San Antonio the night before. And they did look a little flat last night.
But against the Thunder, who were last season's Western Conference champions and are the standard in the West this season, it's the kind of game where you have to dig deep on defense. Instead, the Rockets let Durant, Russell Westbrook and the Thunder control the tempo of the game's pace and let them drive into the paint almost at will.
There is little to be gained in having one of the best offenses in the league when their defense is so bad that it gives up as many points as they score. And when Houston runs into more experienced teams with a focus on defense like the Thunder, who know how to shut down an opponent when they have a chance, the Rockets' defense can either make them, or break them.
The Rockets have all the talent in the world on offense. But they need to learn to be more patient with passing, protect the ball much, much better and make a true commitment on defense in order to have a chance of surviving in the shark tank that is the Western Conference. They have youth, speed and talent on their side, but if they want to take their season beyond April and into the playoffs, they can ill-afford to be their own worst enemy.