A game against the Phoenix Suns should be easy pickings for a legitimate title contender like the Houston Rockets. However, last year's Western Conference Finalists had some trouble taking down the lowly Suns on Friday night.
Following the game, Rockets superstar James Harden noted that Houston has to get better defensively throughout the whole game, and not just when they need to.
“We've just got to be more consistent with demanding stops,” Harden said per ESPN. “We do it when we need to, but we need to do it throughout the course of a game. Then, that will take our game to another level.”
Harden had to dig deep into his repertoire to save Houston once again. He notched a near triple-double with 41 points, 11 assists, and nine rebounds to lead the Rockets to the 108-102 home victory. He also added six steals and shot 12-of-25 from the field and 14-of-17 from the charity stripe.
The 2017-18 version of the Houston Rockets, which won a league-high 65 games, was such a juggernaut. Not only were they the top offense in the league, they also had a well-rounded defense to match it.
Unfortunately, this has not been quite the theme for their 2018-19 campaign. The main culprit for their drop off this season has been defense. It is evident with how much they have fallen off defensively compared to where they were last season. The Rockets ranked sixth in defensive rating in 2017-18. This year, they are outside the top 20.
Nonetheless, the Rockets are still among the favorites to face off with Golden State in the Western Finals. Harden's super-human performances have catapulted them into the third seed after struggling to begin the season.
However, the reigning MVP can only do so much. Houston will have to tighten up their defense and be more consistent on that end if they ever want another shot of dethroning the defending champion Golden State Warriors again.