Defense a priority for Rockets vs. Nuggets

National Sports

The Houston Rockets dropped their sixth consecutive game Friday, falling to the shorthanded Miami Heat in what was the latest in a string of poor defensive performances.

The Rockets’ 120-110 loss featured a first half in which Miami shot 56.8% overall while making 11 of 18 3-pointers. And down the stretch, while they tried to continue a comeback that had erased 20 points off what was once a 25-point deficit, the Rockets could not defend Heat forward Jimmy Butler without fouling, sending him to the charity stripe 11 times as part of his 37-point effort.

Miami finished 26 of 31 at the line as Houston dropped the first game of their fifth back-to-back since Dec. 10, with the Rockets set to host the Denver Nuggets Saturday at Toyota Center.

“It’s very much a learn as you go,” Rockets coach Stephen Silas said. “It’s watching film, it’s teaching technique as far as keeping your hands back but most of it is going through it.

“We do one-on-one drills where we’re working on our defensive technique and defending without fouling, staying down on shot fakes and that kind of thing. If you’ve never done it before you have to go through it, and that’s a lot of things that we’re encountering.”

The Rockets’ 126.2 defensive rating over the last six games is 30th in the NBA by a wide margin. Critical to those defensive woes are the slow starts like Houston endured against the Heat, with the Rockets proving capable of mustering rallies but not runs extended enough to overcome the sizable margins that set the table for defeat.

With one of the youngest rosters in the league, the Rockets have numerous lessons to learn, avoiding early deficits being just one.

“We’re learning these lessons,” Silas said. “When it gets to such a deficit you almost have to play a perfect game to get over the hump. We need to do a better job of that.”

Following a tense 89-86 victory over the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday, the Nuggets had the rematch postponed two days later when they were unable to meet the minimum number of players needed to participate. Denver had seven players out following the postponement with three unavailable due to health and safety protocols: Jeff Green, Bones Hyland and Zeke Nnaji.

Denver bolstered its depleted roster by signing guard Davon Reed to a third 10-day contract. But the Nuggets’ fortunes continue to be tied to reigning league Most Valuable Player Nikola Jokic, who had 22 points and 19 rebounds in the win over the Warriors and leads the NBA in with a 32.3 Player Efficiency Rating while averaging 25.8 points, 14 rebounds and 7.1 assists.

Like most every team in the NBA, the Nuggets have been challenged to participate with a shorthanded roster. That circumstance will likely exist Saturday against the Rockets, but it did not slow the Nuggets against the Warriors, a point of pride for everyone involved in the triumph.

“I couldn’t be more proud of our guys,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said.

-Field LevelMedia

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