THE ROCKETS REPORT

Big win over Warriors, Harden's return highlight critical 2-1 week for Rockets

James Harden returned to the lineup. Rockets.com

The Rockets regained superstar James Harden this past week, but lost swingmen Trevor Ariza and Gerald Green Monday night for the remainder of the week. The effects of the latter seemingly went unnoticed, as Houston shook off an ugly Monday loss and followed with a double-digit blow out against Minnesota, culminating their week with a statement win against the defending champion Golden State Warriors. The win gained ground against the No. 1 team in the conference, but the Rockets remain in second place by 3.5 games.

Game 42: Rockets at Los Angeles Clippers (L, 102-113)

Monday night kicked off the second half of the NBA season with a road game against the L.A. Clippers. Houston was without Chris Paul in their first meeting, dropping the first game at Houston. As a result, this was not only the first time Paul faced his old team, it was also the first time playing in front of Clippers fans in the Staples Center. As the P.A. announcer called his name in the starting lineup, Paul was met by his old fans with positive cheers and posters with well-wishes. As far as the game went, it was incredibly competitive throughout the first half. The Clippers would take their 59-56 lead from halftime and ride it all the way to the finish line, behind a 31 point performance from former Rocket Lou Williams and 29 points from Blake Griffin. Things would get heated late in the fourth however, and with tempers flaring, both Griffin and the Rockets own Trevor Ariza would be ejected before regulation. Reports surfaced following the game that the situation reached a point where Ariza and fellow Rocket swingman Gerald Green breached the Clippers locker room to confront Clippers point guard Austin Rivers and Griffin. Security escorted the players from the scene and both Rockets players were later suspended two games each.

Game 43: Rockets vs Minnesota Timberwolves (W, 116-98)

The Rockets returned home Thursday to take on the fourth best team in the Western Conference. In addition to Harden’s first game back from injury, this was the first matchup between Houston and the Timberwolves since Minnesota added Jimmy Butler, Jeff Teague, and Taj Gibson in the offseason. The first quarter was sloppy and tightly contested for the first 10 minutes, but a nine-point burst from Eric Gordon would conclude a 26-17 first quarter. The Timberwolves would never lead after the first and the Rockets would cruise to a huge victory, despite missing two key players in Ariza and Green. Harden’s performance was sloppy, going 3-15 from the field with 10 points. Gordon led Houston with 30 points total, including a halftime half-court, buzzer beater.

Game 44: Rockets vs Golden State Warriors (W, 116-108)

Saturday’s tilt was an incredibly important test against the the best team in the league. A win in this third matchup between the two teams would take the regular season series for either team, and a win by Houston in particular would legitimize their claims as a serious championship contender. Unlike the second matchup, both teams were at relatively full strength and the primetime matchup once again proved to be a great game. The Warriors took the court with a league-leading 13-game road winning streak, but Houston set the tone early as Harden shook off Thursday night’s rust and buried three straight three-pointers early in the first. After a 40-28 point first quarter by the Rockets, Golden State would rally to bring the game back to within 7 by halftime. As expected the matchup would come down to the final minute, but with 1:10 to go in the fourth, Harden would deliver a vicious step-back three point dagger to seal the win for the Rockets. Harden would finish with 22 points and 8 assists, while Paul would lead the way with 33 points, 11 rebounds, and 7 assists.

Takeaways:

Tough Trio: A finally healthy Rockets squad took down the champs on Saturday, behind great performances from Harden, Clint Capela, and Paul. The win extended their streak to 17-0 when all three are on the court.

Looking Ahead:

Houston’s past few weeks have been rougher than most, and this week looks to be no different. The Rockets will face an early challenge Monday night versus the Miami Heat (27-19), followed by an easy Wednesday matchup against the woeful Dallas Mavericks (15-31), a Friday tilt against a Pelicans team (24-21) that gave the Rockets a headache earlier in the season, and finishing with a Sunday contest against a 17-29 Suns team. Miami looks to be the toughest test this week, while a healthy Pelicans team could pose problems like they did in their first meeting. The only way I envision Dallas or Phoenix beating the Rockets is if they get caught looking ahead in some sort of trap game scenario. Ultimately I don’t see a completely healthy Rockets squad that returns Ariza and Green to the lineup losing more than one game this week. I predict a 3-1 week at worst if they stumble Monday, with the possibility of an undefeated week 15.



 

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1. Davis Mills had an up-and-down day under center Friday. One play saw Mills drop back and try to get rid of the ball as Jonathan Greenard was rushing him only to have Greenard leap up and intercept Mills for what would have been an interception returned for a score.

2. A few plays later Davis Mills showcased his short memory. Mills surveyed the field, looked off the safety, and pitched a strike to Brevin Jordan over the middle, wide open, for a touchdown.

3. Davis Mills doesn’t stack bad plays. It is rare to see multiple bad plays happen in a row and Mills be the cause, or a cause, of the play not working. When he misses something, he usually makes up for it the next play.

4. It was a makeshift offensive line on Friday. Max Scharping played a lot at left guard. Charlie Heck saw some snaps at left tackle while Laremy Tunsil took a breather. Veteran lineman Cedric Ogbuehi played some at right tackle. There was plenty of work emphasized on the rushing attack Friday. The offensive line was fine, nothing special. I would say slight edge to the defense overall.

5. Rookie Kenyon Green didn’t practice. Right tackle Tytus Howard didn’t practice either. Pro Football Network is reporting Tytus Howard is out with a positive Covid test. Kenyon Green was banged up last practice, but Lovie Smith expects both back in the coming days.

6.The offensive line had its hands full with the defensive line today. Jonathan Greenard made the above-mentioned play of the practice with an interception. It felt constantly like there was some level of success from the defensive line. Not to say they dominated, but I would think the defense is happy with their day.

7. Maliek Collins has been a nice player in camp. He looks a bit quicker than last year. Collins downplayed how many “close” plays he had last year citing that everyone knows the saying “close but no cigar.” I asked him if he expected a lot of cigars this year. He chuckled and said yes. Teammate Roy Lopez gushed about what he believes Collins can be for this team and called his teammate one of the best defensive tackles in the league.

8. I almost wonder if quiet Derek Stingley days are good days. Stingley wasn’t involved in a lot of plays, but I know Davis Mills saw him on Friday. Mills dropped back on one play and made a read to his left seeing Chris Moore. Stingley darted from coverage towards Moore causing Mills to move off Moore and head to Nico Collins for a score. Yes, the defense allowed a touchdown, but Stingley did his job.

9. Rookie safety Jalen Pitre is a “starting” safety for the team according to Lovie Smith. Pitre had an interception, depending on who you ask, in practice. It is clear the Texans trust him and have put a lot on his plate. I would expect to see a lot of the rookie safety, good or bad, this season.



10. Lovie Smith praised the team’s depth at linebacker earlier in camp. I scoffed a little at the notion, but there seems to be a new linebacker making a play each day. Christian Kirksey had a nice stop in the run game today. Kevin Pierre-Louis, who played very little last year, has flashed. There’s some depth here, despite my skepticism.

11. Ka'imi Fairbairn doesn’t have a challenger in camp this year. I believed this offseason should have seen at the very least someone to challenge the kicker heading into his seventh year in the league. He’s been solid in camp so far, but there have been some misses. It is tough to judge distance, but the team clearly has faith in him with no challenger in sight.

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