The Western Conference playoff race has tightened up considerably. Wednesday's thrilling win over the New Orleans Hornets pulled the Los Angeles Lakers to within 1½ games of the playoffs. The Lakers have played relatively well recently, of course, but they needed help in getting back into the race. Recently, they've received that help from the three teams ahead of them in the race: the Houston Rockets, Utah Jazz and Golden State Warriors.

We talked about the Jazz's woes Tuesday. Now, let's talk about the Rockets. Specifically, their leaky defense that could cause them to drop out of the playoff picture.

Led by James Harden and a plethora of outside shooters, the Rockets have one of the league's best offenses, but their defense gives it all back. They're ranked 23rd in defensive efficiency for the season and 27th since Feb. 1, via NBA.com's media stats page. Since that date, they've allowed opponents to score an average of 109.3 points per 100 possessions. Only Portland, Sacramento and Charlotte have been worse.

It's tempting to blame this decline on the team's wide-open style of play, which puts smaller players on the court to spread the floor offensively. However, in watching the Rockets' latest costly loss, a 112-108 defeat in Dallas Wednesday, it's clear the Rockets' defense suffers from two major problems that have nothing to do with size.