Russell Westbrook, Rockets Call for Increased Defensive Effort

Michael Shapiro

Russell Westbrook led the Rockets' team meeting after their 117-107 loss to the Blazers on Wednesday, and the former MVP continued to discuss Houston's defensive woes when speaking to the media. 

"Play hard, everything else will fall in line," Westbrook said after the Rockets' second straight loss to a sub-.500 team. "Enough talent, enough experience. ... Just got to play hard every night. I'm going to bring my energy every night, so my job is to make sure the rest of the guys do it."

The Rockets were sluggish throughout their back-to-back contests in Memphis and against Portland. The Grizzlies outscored Houston 25-7 in fast-break points on Tuesday, and the Blazers beat the Rockets in both rebounding and points in the paint on Wednesday. Houston has been a below-average defense (No. 17 in defensive rating) since Dec. 1. Its shortcomings were on full display on Tuesday and Wednesday night. 

Rockets head coach Mike D'Antoni agreed with Westbrook's comments of the team's defense on Wednesday, though D'Antoni was a bit kinder in his assessment. D'Antoni cited minor injuries to Clint Capela, P.J. Tucker and Eric Gordon as one reason for the sluggish play of late. 

"A lot of guys have physical issues that they're fighting through, and sometimes that takes you away from the collective spirit," D'Antoni told the media at the Toyota Center. "They're focused on themselves and it does create a bit of whatever. ...We'll regather and regroup and get back on Saturday and have a great game."

Westbrook was direct in his discussion of the Rockets' woes, though he didn't project pessimism moving forward. Houston believes increased effort is right around the corner, with its current struggles more likely to be a blip than a season-long issues.

"Real measurement of a man is where you stand during adversity," Westbrook said. "I live for things like this and I know the guys in the locker room are feeling the same way. We just gotta stay with it."

Westbrook and the Rockets will have their first chance at improving their defensive woes on Saturday as LeBron James and the Lakers come to Houston. Tip-off from the Toyota Center is slated for 7:30 p.m. CT.