Before the Houston Rockets, set to host the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday, coughed up a 16-point, fourth-quarter lead on Monday against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston coach Mike D'Antoni specifically addressed one of the pressing issues negatively affecting his team during this stretch of frustration and relative futility.
Defensively, the Rockets were a sieve in allowing 41 fourth-quarter points en route to their 112-107 loss, their fourth consecutive setback and fifth in six games. But the Thunder were aided in part by their 13-8 advantage on the glass in the final period, continuing for Houston a recent trend of surrendering crucial rebounds that in turn have brought its season to a halt.
The Rockets rank 16th overall in rebounding rate this season. However, Houston is just 22nd this month at 49.1 percent, a total that correlates to its inability to muster a fight when moments are dire and games in the balance.
"It's been bad," D'Antoni said. "That's a problem we've been addressing, we've been talking about. We've got to get that better. You can't be (ranked low) in something that important."
It is tempting to analyze the Rockets roster, recognize how frequently D'Antoni relies upon smaller lineups geared toward shooting and declare an easy solution. But what has been obvious to anyone watching Houston of late is that what ails it goes far beyond the lack of rangy, athletic types.
It is easier to point out the Rockets' shortcomings defensively because insincere effort is most obvious on that end of the court. Boxing out with fervor and determination is more difficult to spot, and if the Rockets are going to reverse their current slide, they will need more of both on the glass.
"It's awareness, it's mental energy," D'Antoni said. "And sometimes during the year, you do have dog days and sometimes it happens, and sometimes you get complacent because you're winning. You shoot the ball well and you win and you're good. So it's a habit that we've got to get back to and draw attention to and do a better job.
"These guys are trying to win every night. I'm not ever questioning that. It's just questioning that sometimes your focus has to be in other areas and for whatever reason ... you get into a bad habit and we've got to break that."
Interestingly, the Nuggets view rebounding as a clear indication of their game-by-game investment. The Nuggets were plus-11 on the glass in their 107-100 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday. It should come as little surprise that the Nuggets are 7-3 this month and pace the league in rebounding rate in January, snagging 52.2 percent of all available rebounds.
Denver has depth and shooting in abundance, and it has developed an adeptness at wielding both to its favor. But when the Nuggets rebound intently, their optimal selves are revealed.
"It tells me whether or not if we're in the fight," Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. "Are we going to be physical? Are we going to work? Are we going to own our spots to gang rebound and get out and run?"
Michael Porter Jr. continues to have the hot hand for Denver, scoring in double digits in each of the past five games in averaging 16 points and 8.8 rebounds per game in that stretch.
--Field Level Media