Mike D’Antoni convinced Rockets can be better on defense

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The Houston Rockets have the fourth best offense in the NBA so far this young season, with James Harden leading the way as a devastating pick-and-roll man.

The Rockets have the fourth worst defense. Which is why they are a middle of the pack team (4-3 so far), albeit one that can score it’s way into the playoffs. Just don’t expect good things once the Rockets get there — unless the defense improves.

Coach Mike D’Antoni is convinced it can — he’s banking on effort covering the flaws of the players they have on the floor (Harden takes plays off, as does Ryan Anderson, and guys like Trevor Ariza and Eric Gordon can be put in tough situations). Here are some quotes from a fantastic breakdown of what the Rockets are doing on both ends from Zach Lowe of ESPN.

“The biggest thing with defense is that our chemistry will be good,” Mike D’Antoni, the team’s new head coach, told ESPN.com — adding that he wants Houston to finish in the top 10 in points allowed per possession.

“This year, we have guys that trust each other,” Harden told ESPN.com. “We are not going to take possessions off.”

Except, they are. However, as Lowe explains in some detail, the problems are more systemic. The Rockets are getting killed from the arc so far — that could regress over time — and while teams aren’t getting to the rim a lot when they do they shoot a much higher than average percentage. Clint Capella is a nice young player, but he can’t clean everything up, and he’s still learning.

It’s very simple with Houston: They will go as far as their defense takes them. That may well be to the playoffs, but once there the games get a little slower and a little grittier, and that will be an issue for the Rockets. Unless things change.