Despite having a 22-point lead at halftime, and leading by as much as 26 points, Houston couldn’t find it in themselves to get the stops on defense when it was needed and went on to lose 117-112.
The biggest culprit? Rebounds, coach Mike D’Antoni said.
D'Antoni acknowledged defensive rebounding has been a huge problem for the Rockets:— Salman Ali (@SalmanAliNBA) February 10, 2019
"We're thinking 'What's wrong with our defense?' I can tell you what's wrong with our defense. We can't rebound."
As a team, Houston was out-rebounded by the Thunder, 53-39. In the second half alone, the Thunder had 11 second-chance points and grabbed 12 total offensive rebounds to Houston’s 7.
This should come as no surprise. While Kenneth Faried grabbed a stellar 12 rebounds, the 6’9” forward is Houston’s tallest starter and consumes the bulk of the center minutes, playing 31 that night. In other words, Houston is really short and doesn’t have premier rebounders. Nene, the only other center on the team, grabbed only three boards, and new addition, Iman Shumpert, led the bench in rebounds with four of his own.
On the other end, a much taller Thunder team feasted on Houston’s front court. Steven Adams grabbed 9, Paul George had 11, Jerami Grant had 8, and Russell Westbrook had 12. Houston was no match for them on the boards.
Oklahoma City does deserve credit. They’re second in the lead in rebounding at 48 per game. At the same time, Houston has had very little success on the glass with their starting center, Clint Capela, still out.
Even though Houston wasn’t the strongest rebounding team before Capela’s injury, hovering around the bottom five of the league all season, Capela helped keep opposing rebounders at bay. With Capela on the floor, Houston had a modest 48.7-percent rebound rate. In their last 13 games, that dropped down to 45.7-percent.
Clint Capela has missed the past 13 games. Houston has been outrebounded in 12 of the 13 games without Capela and by 9.2 rpg (119 total) over that span. The Rockets were only outrebounded by 1.2 rpg over the first 42 games of the season with Capela in the lineup. #Rockets https://t.co/urKXAVjCYb— Alykhan Bijani (@Rockets_Insider) February 10, 2019
The good news for Houston is their rebounding woes may be coming to an end soon. Capela is expecting to play the first game after the All-Star break, which would mean Houston has to play only two more games without him.
Clint Capela (@CapelaClint) w/ update on his thumb:"I felt that my hand has been responding really well.I've said before my target is after the All-Star Break" (Has he circled a date?) "I haven't yet..If it keeps going really well, hopefully the 1st game after the All-Star Break" pic.twitter.com/ivPzR2un7I— Mark Berman (@MarkBermanFox26) February 10, 2019
The other good news is that the Rockets aren’t guaranteed to get beat on the boards by their final two opponents. The Dallas Mavericks, who they’re hosting on Monday, have averaged only 38 rebounds a game in the past two games without DeAndre Jordan. And the Minnesota Timberwolves are in the middle of the pack at 45.1 rebounds a game for the season (the Rockets average 41.8 per game on the year).
If Houston can compete well enough on the glass to get these next two wins, they’ll go into the second half of the season at a solid, if unspectacular, 34-23 after starting the season 11-14. That would be a 23-9 record since that inauspicious start and would have the team on a 50-win pace.
It all starts on the boards and with effort. Let’s see how Houston closes before the break. It’s an important two games.