While the 23 turnovers jumped off the stat sheet and underscored the issues the Rockets had on offense against the host Minnesota Timberwolves on Saturday, the defensive shortcomings remain central to what truly ails Houston.
The Rockets dropped their sixth consecutive game in falling 129-117 to Minnesota, the first leg of a four-game road trip that will continue on Monday against the Orlando Magic.
Houston surrendered 36 points off those turnovers and allowed the Timberwolves to score 21 fastbreak points. Some of their offensive issues came against the Timberwolves’ switching defense, with Rockets ball-handlers either attacking the switch to negative results or making ill-timed passes that resulted in turnovers and empty possessions.
However, those miscues can be corrected with experience, something the youthful Rockets lack. What remains a primary concern is the Rockets’ inability to construct a reasonable defensive effort. The Timberwolves shot 61.3 percent overall and made 15 of 33 attempts from behind the arc.
The Rockets also surrendered 60 points in the paint, doing so against a Minnesota team lacking center Rudy Gobert (health and safety protocols). Houston entered Sunday ranked 27th in the NBA in defensive rating, with the showcase in Minnesota the latest example of a prevailing weakness.
“Our defense wasn’t very good at all tonight and it was right from the very start,” Rockets coach Stephen Silas said. “One of our main things was protecting the paint and we didn’t do it, especially early in the game. We’ve been talking a lot about our ball movement and our execution — the turnovers obviously hurt us — but it was the defensive end that I wasn’t proud of.”
The Rockets were without rookie Jabari Smith Jr. (illness) against Minnesota and his status against Orlando is probable. If Smith is unable to play it would deprive observers of a meeting between the first and third picks of the 2022 NBA Draft, with Smith going two spots behind Magic rookie forward Paolo Banchero.
Banchero continued his incredible start by posting 33 points, 16 rebounds and four assists in a 126-123 home loss to the Sacramento Kings on Saturday. He is the runaway early favorite for Rookie of the Year honors, averaging 22.9 points and 8.5 rebounds.
What continues to plague the Magic is a lack of healthy bodies. Orlando entered the season with guards Gary Harris (knee) and Markelle Fultz (toe) unavailable in addition to forwards Jonathan Isaac (hamstring) and Moritz Wagner (foot). Guard Cole Anthony (oblique) joined that extensive injured list in late October, hindering an already shortened and compromised rotation.
Still, the Magic have been able to make the most of their size with Banchero working alongside Franz Wagner, Wendell Carter Jr. and Bol Bol, all of them 6-foot-10 or taller.
“That’s part of the reason for starting that group,” Magic coach Jamahl Mosley said. “Their ability to punish at the rim. That length is something that we’re going to continue to hone in on and make sure we continue to use it to our advantage.
–Field Level Media