Since trading James Harden, Houston has NBA’s No. 3 defense

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Ben DuBose
·2 min read
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In seven games since the Jan. 13 blockbuster trade sending James Harden to Brooklyn, the Houston Rockets have had the No. 3 defensive rating in the entire NBA, allowing 102.9 points per 100 possessions.

Only the Los Angeles Lakers (102.3) and Clippers (102.7) rank ahead of Houston on the defensive end over that time, and by narrow margins. After starting the season 3-6, the Rockets are 4-3 over that seven-game span, and they haven’t lost since the return of John Wall from injury.

“Our defense is becoming pretty good,” head coach Stephen Silas said after Tuesday’s 107-88 victory over Washington. “On the ball, on pick-and-rolls. The defense was really, really good in the second half.”

The Wizards scored just 36 points in the second half, and they shot below 40% overall and 20% on 3-pointers for the game. As usual, starters such as Wall, PJ Tucker, and Jae’Sean Tate played key roles.

But Silas also credited his bench for the strong defensive showing, with David Nwaba and Sterling Brown identified as key factors. The Rockets were +20 in the 23 minutes played by Nwaba (11 points) and +22 in the 16 minutes from Brown (8 points), and the 14 combined rebounds between those two swingmen helped Houston overcome a lack of size in the absence of usual starting center Christian Wood (right ankle sprain).

The return of Danuel House Jr. after an extended absence also gave Silas and the Rockets another athletic, versatile defender to deploy.

Over the last seven games, Houston’s offense ranks only No. 21 in the league, at 107.3 points per 100 possessions. Yet, the defense has been strong enough that the overall net rating is +4.4, which is good for No. 8 overall. Once Wood returns and Wall builds his way up to more minutes, the Rockets have reasons for optimism that the offense will improve.

By contrast, in the nine games (3-6) before the Harden trade, Houston ranked No. 22 in defensive rating (111.1), No. 17 on offense (109.2), and No. 21 overall (-2.0). The slippage on offense after losing an All-Star and perennial MVP candidate is to be expected, but so far, they’re more than making up for it on the defensive end of the floor.

The competition for the Rockets (7-9) gets tougher on Thursday when All-Star guard Damian Lillard leads his Portland Trail Blazers (9-7) into Houston. Tipoff is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Central from Toyota Center, with the Rockets looking to build on a three-game winning streak.

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OddsMoney LinePoint SpreadTotal Points
Brooklyn
-286-6.5-
Houston
+230+6.5-