THE ROCKETS REPORT

As Carmelo rumors swirl, Rockets finish week with 2-2 mark

James Harden and Clint Capela led the Rockets to a win Sunday night. Tim Warner/Getty Images

The Rockets began last week’s slate of four games riding a two game winning streak. After securing a statement win in Indianapolis, Houston was embarrassed by the Thunder. They would go on to lose a close battle with the Spurs before blowing out the Pacers in their rematch to close out the week 2-2. Houston is now 5-7 on the season, good for fourth place in the Southwest division and 12th in the Western Conference.

Game Nine: Houston at Indianapolis Pacers (W, 98-94)

At this point, Houston had finally strung together two wins, albeit against awful teams. The Indianapolis Pacers represented an opportunity to prove whether or not Houston could compete against a playoff caliber team. Pacers star guard Victor Oladipo was intent on ruining the Rockets’ night, and very few of Houston’s shooters seemed to be able to do anything about it. Harden provided just enough offense to power Houston past the finish line, however. Contrary to Houston’s reputation as an elite offensive unit, it was their defense late in the game that secured the victory. Harden led the Rockets with 28 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds, and 3 steals. Oladipo led the Pacers with 28 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 assists.

Game 10: Houston at Oklahoma City Thunder (L, 98-80)

Having pushed their win streak to three games, Houston was slowly beginning to regain confidence. Oklahoma City, meanwhile--having suffered a similar slow start to the Rockets - would be entering their Thursday matchup against Houston without their star point guard Russell Westbrook. It seemed, by all accounts, another winnable game to stretch the Rockets’ win streak to four. That is, until tip-off. Houston was run off the court, unable to defend inside the paint, and unable to buy a bucket. The Rockets would go 11-42 from three, and a 15-point third quarter would all but seal their fate. Harden led the Rockets with 19 points, outscored by the Thunder’s Paul George who was good for 20.

Game 11: Houston at San Antonio Spurs (L, 96-89)

The confusion continued Saturday night for anyone trying to figure out this Houston team. Looking to shake off Thursday’s nationally televised beating, the Rockets looked poised to take advantage of an injured opponent. It was more of the same, however, as the Rockets dropped their second straight contest. Flashes of offensive competence could be detected, as Harden and Eric Gordon poured in 25 and 23 points respectively, but it wouldn’t be enough to overcome the team’s collective 33 percent field goal rate. The matchup was closely contested throughout until San Antonio rode an 8-2 run late in the fourth to victory.

Game 12: Houston vs Indianapolis Pacers (W, 115-103)

By Sunday night rumors were swirling regarding Carmelo Anthony’s future with the team, and questions surrounded the Rockets as to where they would turn their focus after missing out on the Jimmy Butler sweepstakes. It seemed like Houston had had just about enough of it and if they were taking their frustration out on the Pacers, it certainly worked. The lid was finally taken off of the bucket and the Rockets delivered a lights-out break-neck offensive spectacular the likes of which hadn’t been seen since last season. Shooting 20-of-47 from beyond the arc, Houston turned the matchup into a track meet that Indianapolis was simply unable to keep up with. Clint Capela was fed to the tune of 18 points, while Chris Paul finally resembled his all-star form with 26 points, 5 assists, 5 rebounds, and 3 steals. It was Harden, however, who stole the show in Houston’s first home win of the season with a spectacular 40 point, 9 assist, 7 rebound masterpiece.

Looking ahead

The Rockets will need to ride whatever confidence they gained from Sunday night’s blowout victory into this week’s matchups, as they’ll face off against two juggernauts and an early season surprise. On Tuesday Houston will travel to the 9-4 Denver Nuggets before returning home to take their first crack at Golden State on Thursday, then finishing the week against a surprising upstart Kings team. This will be the toughest week the Rockets have faced this season, and even if their offensive woes were, in fact, left behind in San Antonio, it’s possible that Houston’s record will get worse before it gets better. Once again, until the Rockets can consistently perform like they did offensively Sunday night, it’s tough to take Houston in any of this week’s matchups. I expect a win against the Kings if they can keep up with the young team, but not much else. I see a 1-2 week.

 

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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

Photo by Getty Images.

Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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