Before embarking upon a brief swing through Charlotte and New Orleans that yielded results they undoubtedly would prefer to forget, the Houston Rockets were lamenting the loss of Christian Wood on the offensive end of the court.
Embarrassing losses to the Hornets and Pelicans in back-to-back contests shifted the narrative a bit. Wood not only paces the Rockets in scoring (22.0 points per game), he is also their leading rebounder (10.2) and a capable rim protector.
Houston has looked vulnerable without Wood in its last three games.
Before the Rockets host the Miami Heat on Thursday, they will aim to address a defense that has suddenly come unglued. Houston finished Tuesday ranked fourth in defensive rating despite surrendering 249 combined points against Charlotte and New Orleans, unsightly efforts that will force the Rockets to revisit the defensive identity they’d established.
“I did learn if we’re not going to come with a great defensive intensity we’re not going to be able to win,” Rockets coach Stephen Silas said after the 130-101 loss to the Pelicans.
“If we’re not committed to stopping people like we have been up until this point, it’s going to be hard for us to win.”
One night after allowing the Hornets to shoot 19 of 41 on 3-pointers while also posting a minus-12 rebounding margin, the Rockets surrendered 60 points in the paint and 18 second-chance points in New Orleans.
An inability to close out on perimeter shooters while also failing to limit penetration makes for a fatal mix, one that Houston must address with haste considering the unknown timetable facing Wood, who sprained his right ankle last Thursday.
“With Christian out, we’re going to have to band together as a group and really concentrate very much on the boards but just our overall defensive mindset, defensive mentality,” Silas said. “These two games have shown our defense has taken a step back and we’ve got to get it back.”
Miami appears on the road to recovery and will carry a three-game winning streak into Houston.
A slew of early-season injuries resulted in a ragged start for the Heat, and while the roster remains compromised, Miami has managed to make the most of its currently available talent.
Primary to that advancement was the return of swingman Jimmy Butler. The Heat finished 2-8 over a 10-game stretch with Butler sidelined prior to his return on Jan. 30 and, not at all coincidentally, is 4-2 since. Miami is 7-5 with Butler available, and Butler is averaging 19 points, 8.7 rebounds and 9.3 assists during the current winning streak.
What was apparent during Miami’s run to the NBA Finals last postseason has become obvious this season: Butler remains the Heat’s most indispensable player.
“I get a good feel of what my guys need me to do,” Butler said. “If I’m not doing my job, they’ll tell me, the coaches will tell me. I’ve just got to make sure that we win.
“Like I always say, I’ve got so much confidence in the group that we have. We’ve got a special group that knows how to play.”
–Field Level Media