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Rockets defensive guru Jeff Bzdelik returns to team

The return of a popular assistant coach won’t fix Houston’s defense, but it should help.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Houston Rockets Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

Just a few days before training camp began, the Houston Rockets were dealt a surprising blow. Assistant coach Jeff Bzdelik, credited with playing a huge role in shaping the Rockets’ strong defense, was retiring.

There were rumors that Bzdelik was retiring due to conflicts with offseason addition Carmelo Anthony, whom Bzdelik had coached many years prior when Anthony was a rookie on the Denver Nuggets. However, the team insisted that the news was due to Bzdelik simply making a family and life decision, to step away from an incredibly demanding position.

It turns out that was accurate, and with some family issues cleared up, Bzdelik has reversed course and will be returning to Houston’s bench later this month.

It remains to be seen how much Bzdelik’s return will help, but one thing is abundantly clear: Houston needs all the help they can get. A year ago, the Rockets surprised the league by finishing seventh in defensive rating, allowing just 105.6 points per 100 possessions - a figure that was notably stingier than the Golden State Warriors.

But this year tells a different story. Houston’s defense has dropped to 21st, as they’re allowing 111.3 points per 100 possessions.

Part of that is surely due to scheme, but part of it is due to losing Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute, and giving a fair chunk of minutes to the defensively inept Anthony. Only the return of Bzdelik will tell us how much of their previously strong defense can be salvaged.

If the Rockets - who have started the season just 3-5 - want to compete with the Warriors again in the Western Conference, fixing that defense will be paramount.