5 Areas the Houston Rockets Must Improve for the NBA Playoffs
March Madness has come to an end, and that can only mean one thing: The NBA playoffs are approaching, and fast. The Houston Rockets have clinched themselves a spot, but they still have room for improvement in many areas.
The turnovers are worrisome, the defense is lackadaisical and can somebody please box out on defense?
The Rockets are focused on securing home-court advantage for the first round, but they should also be paying some attention to these five areas that need improvement, before it's too late.
5. Defensive Rebounding
In general, the Rockets are a good rebounding team. At 45.3 boards per game, Houston is second in the league in that category.
However, the Rockets somehow relinquish 12 rebounds a game to the opposition, which is third worst in the NBA. Offensive rebounds and second-chance points are killers. There's nothing more deflating than playing a good defensive possession, just to let a big man sneak in the lane and get the easy putback.
Houston cannot let second-chance points become its Achilles' heel. Defensive stops for the Rockets aren't exactly easy to come by in the first place. Giving a team another chance to score is not only disheartening, but it also cuts into the Rockets' opportunities on offense.
Each and every possession could have significance in a close playoff game, so why take a chance and let the other team get three or four chances at a bucket? The Rockets like to get out quick on the break, but it doesn't do them any good to have cherry pickers while the other team has the ball.
Once the shot goes up, every Rocket, whether it's the center or the point guard, has to box out and take control of the glass. Good rebounding will help the Rockets win in the playoffs, especially against smaller teams.
4. Playing 48 Minutes
Basketball is a game of runs, but that's no excuse to get outhustled. Once the playoffs roll around, the Rockets really need to focus on playing complete games without bad, game-changing stretches.
You see it nearly every game. The Rockets go through stretches where they can't miss. The shots are falling, and as a result, the defensive intensity picks up and everybody gets out on the break with lots of energy. Or the opposite happens.
Houston goes through stretches where it couldn't hit water if it fell out of a boat. No one can seem to make a shot, and the offense goes stagnant. Players tend to stand around and watch James Harden dribble instead of running the fast-paced offense that works so well. That lack of energy affects the defense, where players get lost in rotations and leave shooters wide open.
The Rockets can play on both ends of the spectrum in the course of one game. That's why they have had several games where they have been both up and down double-digit points.
In the playoffs, the Rockets can't afford to go through those miserable stretches when nothing seems to go right. Hopefully, the team will be able to focus because of the importance of every game, and it can feed off the adrenaline that comes with all of the pressure-packed excitement that the NBA playoffs has to offer.
The Rockets have to play consistently for 48 minutes a night if they want to advance.
3. Three-Point Shooting
The Rockets launch the most threes per game in the league, which shouldn't come as a surprise. However, their percentage from deep is in the bottom half of the league at a less-than-impressive 35.6 percent.
As the experts always say, teams live and die by the three. Launching three balls is not the best strategy for winning NBA championships. However, Houston has a method to its three-pointer madness.
The Rockets offense focuses on taking efficient shots. That means they only take shots in the paint or from behind the arc, especially in the corner. This system maximizes the most out of each Rockets' possession, and as a result, they take a lot of threes.
When the three balls are falling, Houston is tough to beat. The Rockets can light up the scoreboard on any given night in this system. However, there are also nights when the team goes cold, and the Rockets struggle to keep pace in these types of games.
When the shots don't fall, it's bad news. The entire offense becomes stagnant. If the Rockets want to make a deep run in the postseason, it would be beneficial for them to catch a hot streak from long range.
2. Perimeter Defense
Just like it's no surprise that the Rockets shoot a lot of threes, unfortunately it's also not a shocker that they struggle on defense. Houston gives up 102.8 points per game, which ranks 22nd in the NBA.
The effort on defense is pitiful sometimes, and it is a major concern heading into the playoffs. Harden is infamous for his lazy defense, and the Rockets as a whole struggle mightily against top-scoring teams.
The Rockets need to figure out how to match up defensively against whomever they play in the postseason.
If Patrick Beverley can come back healthy, he will have to face an elite point guard, regardless of whom the Rockets draw. Nearly every playoff team in the West has a top-tier point guard, including Tony Parker, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, Damian Lillard and Steph Curry, to name a few.
Chandler Parsons and possibly Francisco Garcia will have to guard the scoring wings such as Kevin Durant or Kawhi Leonard.
Houston doesn't have to worry too much about interior defense, with Dwight Howard clogging up the middle and Omer Asik coming in when he needs a rest.
The Rockets take off too many possessions on defense. When the playoffs start, matchups will be crucial, but most importantly, they have to stay focused and play hard-nosed defense every possession.
Other than the Philadelphia 76ers, who are clearly tanking, the Rockets turn the ball over more than any other team in the league. Houston, we have a huge problem.
The turnover issue has gotten ridiculous. Like I said before, every possession is critical in the playoffs, and empty possessions without getting a shot off are unacceptable, especially if they lead to easy fast-break points for the opposition.
Jeremy Lin and Harden, among others, have far too many lackadaisical goof-ups that turn into dunks at the other end. Taking care of the ball and making sure every possession counts should be Houston's top priority entering the playoffs.
It's plain and simple. The Rockets have a high-powered offense, but when you take away opportunities by giving up the ball, then the offense can't work its magic.
The Rockets absolutely must cut down on the turnovers in the playoffs. If they can keep them low, they have a good chance of competing with any team.
All stats are from ESPN.com, unless otherwise noted, and are relevant as of 4/9/14.