Even considering their elevated play of late and the fact that their opponent on Wednesday night participated without a key cog, the Houston Rockets grasped that a continuation of their season-best winning streak would require far more than the pedestrian effort they put forth.
In falling 106-104 to the Golden State Warriors at Toyota Center, Houston suffered its first loss after nine successive wins and failed to complete a four-game sweep of the season series against the two-time defending champions. Even though the Warriors were without All-Star forward Kevin Durant (ankle), the Rockets failed to take advantage of that circumstance combined with their stacked roster, one that welcomed back swingman Danuel House Jr.
On Friday, when the Rockets host the Phoenix Suns at Toyota Center in the third game of their four-game homestand, they must correct the problem that undermined their effort against the Warriors, a flaw that has been a season-long issue despite their rapid climb up the standings.
The Rockets allowed a 44-31 edge on the glass against Golden State, marking the 21st time this season they have surrendered a double-digit rebounding advantage. Houston posted six such games last season, and entered Thursday 29th in defensive rebounding rate, ahead of only the Suns. On Wednesday, the Warriors turned 12 offensive boards into 15 second-chance points.
"As a team, we've got to rebound the basketball," Rockets guard James Harden said. "We're so good once we rebound the basketball and get out in transition, but it makes it difficult no matter who we're playing if we give (opponents) 10 second-chance opportunities."
Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni can afford to play bigger lineups now that he has a full complement of players. However, a frontline featuring center Clint Capela plus P.J. Tucker and Kenneth Faried at forward inhibits the Rockets' volume 3-point shooting, and while Faried offers rebounding punch, his defense remains erratic. When the Rockets play small, they are often victimized on the boards, leaving Capela alone to shoulder a disproportionate load.
How the Rockets address that issue could shape their stretch run and postseason aspirations.
Given the Suns' placement in the defensive rebounding rate rankings, the Rockets shouldn't encounter a distinct disadvantage on the boards on Friday. But Phoenix has been feisty of late, winning five of seven games before suffering a 114-97 home setback to the Utah Jazz on Wednesday.
That unexpected string of success featured wins over the Milwaukee Bucks and Warriors, the respective top seeds in the Eastern and Western Conference. And while the Suns are mired in the West cellar, there was hope that their collection of young talent would at some point coalesce. After winning three consecutive games at home, progress appeared to be afoot.
Against Utah, the Suns took a step back, showcasing many of the problems that yielded their place in the standings. These are the inconsistencies suffered by youthful rosters.
"We didn't have discipline and the focus to execute a game plan," Suns coach Igor Kokoskov said. "I know offensively I think ... our defense affects our offense in terms of the confidence and rhythm.
"Our offense, our defense when it comes to the discipline wasn't there."
Rookie center Deandre Ayton scored just two points on 1-of-9 shooting against the Jazz.
--Field Level Media