Rockets pick up defense, while Hornets look for offense
This moment, like so many others for the Rockets defensively this season, might prove fleeting, but in the interim, it's easy to understand why Houston is emboldened by its sudden might.
The Rockets stretched their season-best winning streak to eight games with a 94-93 victory in Dallas on Sunday, punctuating the triumph with a Chris Paul block of Jalen Brunson at the buzzer.
Houston has held three consecutive opponents under 100 points, and will seek to match its season-best streak of four games when the Charlotte Hornets visit on Monday.
"We've had a lot of games where it's ugly but we lost early in the season," Rockets guard James Harden said. "But we'll take an ugly win. Played well defensively; offensively we couldn't get it going. It feels good to win on the defensive end."
Following a rugged start to the season that yielded a sub-.500 record by mid-December, the Rockets long ago reclaimed their offensive identity and have ranked second to the Golden State Warriors in offensive efficiency for a lengthy stretch of games.
The recent resurgence defensively, however, has reaffirmed their self-belief and caused the rest of the league to take notice.
Over their last three games, the Rockets have produced a 96.9 defensive rating. Performing at that level on defense while striking a balance offensively is something Houston sought to accomplish this season, with injuries the primary culprit for an inability to meet that objective.
In Dallas, with Harden scoring 20 points to end his 43-game streak of pacing the team in scoring, the Rockets still found a way. When they were scuffling, these paths were too difficult to navigate.
"We're just really putting it together," said Rockets guard Eric Gordon, whose 26 points led the way against the Mavericks. "We're trying to win a championship, and it starts with now. Not that many games left, but it's enough to build habits."
The Hornets have dropped 10 of 14 games since climbing to .500 on Feb. 2 after winning both ends of a home back-to-back against the Memphis Grizzlies and Chicago Bulls.
When Charlotte lost 131-114 in Milwaukee on Saturday, it fell six games below .500 and on the outside of the Eastern Conference postseason picture.
In search of a boost to lift the Hornets' fading playoff hopes, Charlotte coach James Borrego recently returned reserve center Frank Kaminsky to the playing rotation.
Kaminsky has averaged 14.6 points and 5.4 rebounds while logging 22.2 minutes over the past five games, a complete turnaround after Kaminsky played just over 26 minutes while seeing action in only four games during a 24-game stretch.
"Well, he's playing with a lot of confidence right now," Borrego said of Kaminski.
"We need him to shoot the ball. We needed some scoring punch off our bench. Our bench had gotten a little dry. We got (Jeremy) Lamb on the second unit now, Tony (Parker) in the second unit ... but we needed another scoring punch out there and Frank's given us that stretching the floor, driving the ball, just giving us more offense right now."
--Field Level Media
Updated March 11, 2019