DALLAS, TX — Let’s get one thing established: The Houston Rockets have been an awful defensive team for most of this season.
After 20 games, the Rockets have given up 107 points per game and are currently ranked 28th in the league in points allowed, with only the Sacramento Kings and New Orleans Pelicans below them. Since interim head coach J.B. Bickerstaff took over the reins, defense has become a big point of emphasis for the Rockets, who’ve struggled to resemble the squad which lost in the Western Conference Finals a year ago.
“What we hung our hat on last year we are doing more of now,” Bickerstaff said after the Rockets’ win over the Dallas Mavericks on Friday night. “We are aggressive, we are forcing turnovers and we are just digging down to get stops. We got to keep doing the same things we can’t settle – we are in a hole, we are not where we want to be, we are sitting at 9-11, our competition is playing well and is above of us in the standings.”
Since young Bickerstaff was give the interim title on Nov. 18, the Rockets are 5-4 and have won four of their last five games to move into eighth place in the Western Conference standings. Despite the emphasis on defense, the Rockets have given up 100 points or more in seven of their nine games under Bickerstaff.
But what’s helped them begin to turn the tide is their improved defense in the fourth quarter.
In the Rockets’ last two victories this week, they held the Pelicans and Mavericks to 19 and 18 points, respectively, in the fourth quarter while outscoring them by five and four points to grab two much-needed victories.
“Our defense is getting a lot better – we have to start games better and keep that same intensity as a team,” Rockets center Dwight Howard said. “Once that trust is there we’ll be great. But trust hasn’t been there because there have been breakdowns. So we have to do a better job of just trusting each other – defense is mainly about trusting, especially team defense.”
With their defensive anchor Howard sitting out due to a scheduled day of rest, the Rockets were able to get the victory over the Mavericks due to their newfound trust on defense. The Rockets forced Mavericks point guard Deron Williams into three of his game-high eight turnovers down the stretch while holding the Mavericks to four points in the final 2:33 to end a five-game home winning streak.
As the Rockets approach a rough stretch in the schedule that features seven games in 12 days with five of them being on the road, they hope their renewed commitment to defense will help the team shape back into form and regain their identity.
“We just have to get our focus back – get our groove back,” Rockets forward Corey Brewer said. “We have to carry it on. We got another game tomorrow, so this is a good win, but we can’t let it go out. We have to play the same defense and move the ball more on offense to get another win.”