NBA Basketball

Rockets will try to maintain defensive effort against Kings

In throttling the Denver Nuggets Tuesday night, the Houston Rockets showed another flash of defensive potential in a showcase of how effectively they can perform on the end of the court where they most often produce inconsistent efforts.

In their 112-85 win, the Rockets communicated with fervor and suffocated one of the best offenses in the NBA. Houston (48-28) has executed similarly before, but an inability to repeat that level of defensive might has become an identifying characteristic, one the Rockets can't deny.

So when the Rockets host Sacramento on Saturday at Toyota Center in the first game of a home-and-home with the high-flying Kings (37-38) -- the second game is Tuesday at Golden1 Center -- they'll have another shot at proving how good they can be when fully committed on the defensive end.

"We can go all the way. If we play defense like that we can win a title," Rockets guard Austin Rivers said. "That's what we believe around here."

There is no doubting the Rockets' offensive chops; they've ranked second to Golden State in offensive efficiency for much of the season. Where Houston lacks punch is on defense, even though incremental improvement there has the Rockets set to escape the bottom 10 overall.

The Rockets' effectiveness against Denver underscored what could happen in the postseason if they get their offense and defense in sync. The burden remains on Houston to make that happen.

"We have the ability to do it," Rockets guard James Harden said. "We've just got to continue to do it and continue to get better. And we will."

On the opposite end of the court, time is set to expire on what has been a promising season for the Kings, who stand one loss shy of being eliminated from postseason contention in the West. Sacramento suffered a 121-118 setback in New Orleans on Thursday against the Anthony Davis-less Pelicans and dropped to 7-11 since the All-Star break. The Kings' inability to string together a winning streak of note - Sacramento has won consecutive games only once since mid-February - torpedoed their aspirations of qualifying for the postseason for the first time since the 2005-06 campaign.

Maintaining a singular focus, particularly after a playoff berth became a surprising possibility, became a struggle for the Kings. With Davis unavailable for the Pelicans on Thursday night, Sacramento faced an opportunity to capitalize on his absence and set an early tone against New Orleans. Instead, the Kings were slow out of the gate and struggled to build momentum against a shorthanded foe.

The next hurdle for the Kings is developing a mental fortitude that complements their enticing talent. However, Sacramento won't have an opportunity to maximize that potential this season.

"What can happen is, when you're a young player and you find out 25 minutes before the game that a team's best player (Davis) and an MVP candidate on a perennial basis is not going to play, you relax a little bit," Kings coach Dave Joerger told the Sacramento Bee. "I thought we played way too relaxed in the first half."

--Field Level Media

Updated March 29, 2019

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