It’s a small mar­gin for er­ror

Team’s re­bound­ing suf­fers be­cause of the play­ers’ rel­a­tive lack of height

Houston Chronicle - - SPORTS - By Hunter Atkins

As the Rock­ets strode into the locker room at half­time lead­ing the Thun­der 70-48 on Sat­ur­day night at Toy­ota Cen­ter, Ger­ald Green hollered.

“Zero-zero!” Green said. “Zero-zero!”

His mes­sage seemed to sug­gest the Rock­ets needed to ap­proach the se­cond half with the same fo­cus as if the score were 0-0.

Three times this sea­son the Rock­ets had lost games af­ter lead­ing by more than 15 points. On two other oc­ca­sions, they’d lost af­ter lead­ing by more than 10. They had not lost af­ter lead­ing by more than 20. Then Ok­la­homa City’s come­back from 26 down in a 117-112 win de­liv­ered the Rock­ets’ largest col­lapse.

In the pre­vi­ous four games, the Rock­ets had led by 29, 20, 37 and 26 points, but a re­cent scor­ing tear and a core of tested vet­er­ans could not con­ceal how vul­ner­a­ble the team felt against its faster, longer and more

tow­er­ing op­po­nents.

“I can tell you what’s wrong,” coach Mike D’An­toni said Sun­day. “We can’t re­bound.”

The Thun­der could con­trol pos­ses­sions, grab of­fen­sive boards, drop in sec­ond­chance points and chip away at the lead in the se­cond half be­cause they are one of the two best re­bound­ing teams and the Rock­ets are one of the two worst.

“It cost us 10 points last night where they got of­fen­sive re­bounds, threw it back out and hit a 3,” D’An­toni said. “That’s a prob­lem. We’ve got to ad­dress it. We’ve got to talk about it. We’ve got to do it above all.”

Rock­erts sub­sti­tute cen­ter Ken­neth Faried had 12 re­bounds, and point guard Chris Paul had 10, but when the Rock­ets can­not out­shoot the com­pe­ti­tion, op­po­nents are snatch­ing back leads and leav­ing them out of reach.

Green had sensed a short­com­ing. The Rock­ets’ dis­ad­van­tage to the Thun­der, while clear with a glance at the play­ers on the court, is in­her­ent against ev­ery op­po­nent this sea­son. No team re­lies so largely on play­ers so short as the Rock­ets.

“We have a re­ally small mar­gin of er­ror where we’ve gotta do re­ally well de­fen­sively be­cause we’re smaller than teams,” said start­ing guard Eric Gor­don, 6-4.

The Rock­ets’ prob­lem goes be­yond hav­ing a de­fense fu­eled by 6-6 power for­ward P.J. Tucker and the NBA’s only start­ing lineup with four play­ers shorter than 6-7. With the in­jec­tion of newly ac­quired 6-5 guard Iman Shumpert, they are the only team with six play­ers un­der 6-7 av­er­ag­ing at least 23 min­utes per game.

When it comes to a so­lu­tion, Paul said: “Prob­a­bly pray for a lit­tle bit more height, but I doubt that’s com­ing any time soon. We’ve just got to make up for it.”

In­de­fati­ga­ble ef­forts might be a lot to ask from the Rock­ets, the league’s old­est team, which has started giv­ing Paul nights off on back-to-backs.

D’An­toni al­luded to Paul’s 10 re­bounds as an in­di­ca­tion short stature is not an ac­cept­able ex­cuse (“He’s, what, 5-7? 5-8?”), but the coach made it clear di­ag­nos­ing the re­bound­ing prob­lem is eas­ier than over­com­ing the cause of it.

The Rock­ets’ in­suf­fi­ciency not only makes reel­ing in more re­bounds a tall task, it re­veals a threat that shrinks their chances at reach­ing the NBA Fi­nals.

“You can’t be (ranked No.) 27 to 28 (in re­bound per­cent­age) and think you’re go­ing to com­pete for a ti­tle,” D’An­toni said. “That’s not go­ing to hap­pen.”

Ac­tu­ally, the Rock­ets are 29th in de­fen­sive re­bound­ing. Their rate of 69.1 per­cent edges out the 68.6 per­cent of the 11-win Phoenix Suns.

The Rock­ets, who host the Mav­er­icks on Mon­day and visit the Tim­ber­wolves on Wed­nes­day, ex­pect cen­ter Clint Capela (thumb surgery) to re­turn af­ter the All­Star break. The strug­gle for re­bounds might per­sist un­til Capela, who last played Jan. 13, is ad­justed back to play­ing his av­er­age of 34plus min­utes.

“Clint will help, ob­vi­ously, but this has be­come a prob­lem,” D’An­toni said. “Last year, when our de­fense re­ally ticked up, we were in the top three re­bound­ing de­fen­sively.”

D’An­toni had to reel back the switch-on-ev­ery­thing de­fen­sive ap­proach that flour­ished last year to keep big men at the rim and com­pen­sate for the worst of the re­bound­ing trou­ble this sea­son.

“But we did that,” he said, again re­fer­ring to the low re­bound­ing per­cent­age. “That hasn’t moved the nee­dle.

“It’s more of an an­tic­i­pa­tion and a want. We’re not as big as other teams, so if every­body does the same, which means nei­ther one is block­ing out, we lose that bat­tle. We have to box out. We have to go af­ter it first. Most re­bounds are below the rim. Every­body on our team can jump to the rim. It’s just a mat­ter of get­ting your­self in po­si­tion and a de­sire to re­bound.

“If I’ve got to go in and mo­ti­vate them, then we’re in trou­ble. But they’re self­mo­ti­vated. They know what we’ve gotta do.”

They also know the heart­break of com­ing up short mul­ti­ple times. Green’s cau­tion to his team­mates proved pre­scient. He showed the Rock­ets could use a re­minder as much as a re­bound.

PJ Tucker

Tucker

Har­den

Gor­don

Paul

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