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Detroit Pistons 123, Houston Rockets 114: One step forward, one step hack

I could probably just post this tweet, call it a night, and this would sum up the game right here and there.

But instead, I am going to take the chance to go into more detail about what has gone wrong. The big news tonight? That a Houston team which practically prevented a Pistons team from scoring for three straight minutes thanks to one of the most ridiculous examples of hacking I have ever seen still gave up 123 points.

So first off, the hacking. Most hacking starts when the team picks up four fouls and no longer has to worry about getting into the penalty. But from the beginning of the third quarter, Coach Bickerstaff sent K.J. McDaniels to foul Andre Drummond five times in nine seconds. McDaniels was a good sport after the game about getting assigned such a role. That is great for a young player.

And the hacking worked. Drummond couldn’t make enough free throws, Houston erased their deficit, and Stan Van Gundy yanked Drummond out and put in Aron Baynes. And from there, the Rockets continued their strategy of not playing any defense.

That was made worse by Howard’s injury early in the first when he twisted his ankle in the first minute. I observed in my discussion about Howard’s future that he can no longer “singlehandedly make a defense elite”, but if the defense is going to look this bad without him, Morey needs to retain him at all costs.

With Howard out, Capela had a really bad game tonight. He went for the layup too much instead of just catching and slamming the ball down. He even did that in one play where his long arms were raised above the basket. The result was 10 points on 5-14 shooting and the worst +/- on the Rockets.

But as we talk about defense, I’m going to take a moment to talk about Kevin Garnett. I love Kevin Garnett, and everyone can admit that he was one of the greatest defenders ever. But in his final years with the Timberwolves, even Kevin Garnett was not good enough to make up for his putrid teammates on the defensive end. The Wolves finished with some of the worst defensive ratings in the league, but Garnett would show that he was still an elite defender later on with the Celtics.

Why is this relevant? Because I am comparing the Houston Rockets to the dreck which surrounded Kevin Garnett in his final years. I’m comparing them to such illustrious players like Ricky Davis and Mark Blount and Randy Foye.

Houston is THAT bad on defense right now. They don’t hustle back. I count at least three plays tonight where I saw Marcus Morris or Kentavious Caldwell-Pope running down the weakside in transition with no one picking him up. Then they cut to the rim, got passed the ball, and finished. Their constant switching just leaves them confused about where to go. If they do manage to get a stop, then Andre Drummond or Aron Baynes will just get the putback instead. Capela proved utterly helpless to stop either one in the paint tonight.

And while you can blame everyone but Dwight on how this team has collapsed defensively, I think this is fundamentally a coaching problem. Implementing a defensive scheme on the fly like some expected Bickerstaff to do is impossible. But as Zach Lowe and other NBA analysts have observed, the Rockets team perimeter defense has seemed confused throughout this season about where they need to go. That simple fix would go a lot ways towards helping a team which still has a lot of talent.

If there are positives to take away from this game, it is that starting Ty Lawson and James Harden actually worked decently on the offensive end, and Lawson played pretty well overall. Houston did have one good stretch in the second quarter where they brought the deficit down to five, and that was with Lawson holding the ball and not Harden. And while Harden’s box score statline is certainly impressive, he finished with the second worst +/- on the team behind Capela and the Pistons averaged 126 points per 100 possessions while he on the court.

To be fair, they averaged around that much when pretty much anyone else was on that court.

Well, the Rockets are back to .500 again. They get to play the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday, who have won three straight games despite struggling for much of the season. This probably means that Houston will get blown out, because that is how this season has gone.




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About the author: The son of transplants to Houston, Paul McGuire is now a transplant in Washington D.C. The Stockton shot is one of his earliest memories, which has undoubtedly contributed to his lack of belief in the goodness of man.

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