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DENVER — The Houston Rockets came into Friday night’s matchup against the Denver Nuggets as the league leaders in 3-point attempts on the season, having shot 740 threes, 75 more than the Brooklyn Nets, the second-most frequent team from distance.
Against the Nuggets, the Rockets shot 17-37, 45.9 percent from three, lengthening the gap between them and the Nets even further as their reign as the league’s most frequent and sixth-most potent team in the league from 3-point range continues.
“We did not guard their shooters,” Michael Malone said postgame after Houston’s 128-110 win in Denver. “We guarded Trevor Ariza, Ryan Anderson, and Eric Gordon like they were non-shooters, and again, that starts with me.”
Ariza, who’s now shooting 38.6 percent from three on the year, his best percentage since 2013-14, went 4-7 from deep.
Anderson, who has looked every bit deserving of the four-year $80 million contract the Rockets signed him to this summer, continued his efficient year from three going 4-7 from distance as well, raising his percentage on the season to 42.9 percent, 20 percentage points higher than his previous career high.
Eric Gordon, who many wrote off before this season and continued to write off after agreeing to a four-year $53 million deal with Houston, also this summer, went 4-8 from three and as many do under Mike D’Antoni, continues to enjoy a career revival and resurgence this season.
The Nuggets flat out did not guard, or even make much of an attempt to guard Houston, from three Friday night.
“I have to do a better job of making sure our guys know exactly who can shoot and who can’t,” Malone said. “Because we had no idea tonight.”
It wasn’t just the percentages Houston’s shooters shot from 3-point range, but the uncontested looks Denver managed to give the Rockets’ marksman all night long. From the opening tip, it was Anderson who found himself inexplicably wide open from beyond the arc, here, on a simple pick-and-pop action with Patrick Beverley, that the Nuggets didn’t make much of an attempt to cover.
Two minutes later, the Rockets try the same exact action, this time on the opposite side of the floor. While Kenneth Faried does a better job getting out on Anderson, he doesn’t run him off the line and allows the 43 percent shooter to get another clean look from three.
Anderson set the tone for Houston Friday night. He was 3-5 from three in the first quarter alone, as the Rockets went 7-14 from distance in the game’s first 12 minutes, outscoring the Nuggets 42-33 over that span and setting the tone for the ugly defensive night from Denver that ensued.
The defense on Gordon and Ariza wasn’t much better.
No hands up on identified shooters, Danilo Gallinari overhelping from the weak side off of Trevor Ariza, a lack of communication and aggressiveness covering a Gordon and Montrez Harrell pick-and-pop, the list goes on.
“We’re a bad team right now and I have to start doing a much better job,” Malone said. “Because the direction we’re headed right now is in a bad, bad place.”
The Nuggets have a short turnaround and face the Jazz tonight from Salt Lake City as Denver kicks off a six-game road trip that will take them through Utah, Philadelphia, Brooklyn, Washington, Orlando and Dallas over the next ten days.
Denver can erase the Houston loss from their minds and turn their focus tonight to Utah, but the Nuggets have to recognize the issues they have defending the three if they want to reverse the trend that has seen Denver’ 3-point defense plummet over their past stretch of games.