For the opening few minutes of their home victory over the New Orleans Pelicans on Sunday, the Houston Rockets looked the part of a team ranked last in the NBA in turnovers.
The Rockets committed four quick turnovers and were showcasing their primary weakness, one at the root of the 15-game losing skid that dropped them to the bottom of the NBA standings just before Thanksgiving.
Houston has improved in other areas during its current six-game winning streak, but turnovers remain the Rockets’ most glaring issue entering a Wednesday matchup with the visiting Brooklyn Nets.
Brooklyn, which owns the Eastern Conference’s best record, arrives after a 102-99 road win over the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday.
The Rockets, after the rocky start Sunday, finished with only 14 turnovers by the close of their 118-108 victory. They gave the ball away just five times in the second half to fend off the Pelicans’ late run.
Houston has displayed a surprising ability to close games recently with superior ball security in the moments that are the most intense.
“We were turning the ball over like you can’t believe earlier in the season just because we were not familiar with each other, not familiar with how we play,” Rockets coach Stephen Silas said. “We’re slowly but surely getting to a point where we’re not turning it over as much and we are executing down the stretch.”
Before holding off the Pelicans in the fourth quarter, the Rockets did the same against the Chicago Bulls, defeated the Charlotte Hornets in overtime, beat the Oklahoma City Thunder twice and then the Orlando Magic at bay.
Whereas the Rockets were close to winning tight games earlier this season, they have solved the mystery of actually claiming those contests over the past two weeks. It’s been quite the turnaround.
“At the beginning, frankly, we didn’t know what we were doing,” Silas said. “We hadn’t been through those experiences. We had just had training camp and we had game after game after game with guys who hadn’t been through those moments. The more we do it, the better we get at it. It’s still super early in the season.”
The Nets improved to 9-2 on the road by prevailing in Dallas, their seventh victory in their last nine games overall. Brooklyn trailed by as many as 17 points in the third quarter and did not take its first lead until James Harden sank a pair of free throws with 6:41 remaining.
Brooklyn continues to discover paths to victory without Kyrie Irving (not with the team) and Joe Harris (ankle surgery). Harden flirted with a triple-double against the Mavericks (23 points, 12 assists, nine rebounds) while Kevin Durant added 24 points, seven rebounds and three assists.
The Nets continue to receive contributions from veterans. LaMarcus Aldridge (15 points, five boards) and James Johnson (12 points, four rebounds and four assists off the bench) filled those gaps in Dallas.
“I’m extremely proud of our group,” Nets coach Steve Nash said. “We’ve faced a lot of things already this year and we sit at the top of the East. We’ve had a lot of change: 10 new guys, Kyrie not being with us, some injuries. So for us to put it together and compete, I’m proud of them.
“I think we’re knocking on the door of elevating our play into a higher category, and that’s the process we have to undertake this year — and we have to stay with it. I’m optimistic.”