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.

 

Deshaun Watson takes his act to New York. Tim Warner/Getty Images

The Texans Saturday play a lousy 4-9 Jets team Saturday now without its leading rusher (Isaiah Crowell) and leading pass catcher (Quincy Enunwa). Then they face a probably Carson Wentz-less Eagles team seeing its Super Bowl championship defense die away. Then the awful Jaguars come to Houston. 12-4 is right there for the Texans, but that will only be enough for the number three seed in the AFC and a Wild Card weekend home game unless the fading Steelers rise up Sunday to knock off the Patriots. That game is in Pittsburgh. The Patriots' final two games are both at home against the Bills and Jets.

With the Patriots losing their game to the Miami Miracle, on one hand you can say the Texans blew a massive opportunity in losing at home to the Colts. On the other hand the Colts were clearly the better team in ending the Texans' nine game winning streak.

The loss to Indy was a reality check. The Texans are a pretty good team, but glaring areas of weakness keep it from being a reeeeally good team. The offensive line is flat lousy in pass protection, though sometimes Deshaun Watson makes it look even worse by holding on to the ball too long. Pending free agent moves in the offseason, one of the Texans' top two draft picks next spring MUST be spent on an offensive lineman, the other on a cornerback (if not on another o-lineman). Even in their zone-heavy scheme, the Texans lack corners who run well enough. If the pass rush isn't raising hell, the secondary is Swiss cheesy. Remember, the Texans have an extra second pick this spring, acquired from Seattle in last year's Duane Brown trade.

If somehow the Texans chump up two of their remaining three games, as long as one of the losses isn't to the Jaguars they still win the AFC South even if the Titans or Colts win out.

Coogs' house

None of the Phi Slama Jama era Houston Cougar basketball teams started a season better than 5-0. Sunday Kelvin Sampson's Coogs go for a Bo Derek (perfect 10, anybody remember Bo?) start. Only UH team ever to open 10-0: the Elvin Hayes-led '67-'68 squad that went 31-0 and along the way beat UCLA in the Game of the Century before the Bruins obliterated the Cougars at the Final Four.

The new Fertitta Center is a modest-sized gem, and currently offers the hands down best sports environment in town. Non-Cougars are never going to embrace UH in big numbers especially not in a major league sports town, so UH's "For the City" slogan doesn't hit the mark. But so what? Drawing more of the Cougar base, plus any outside of it who might have some interest piqued by intensely played quality college basketball is good enough.

Rockets rumors

The Rockets have been vastly less excitement-inducing this season, though James Harden's closing brilliance in a 50 point explosion Thursday night to put away the Lakers was a doozy. Getting back to and then over ,500 is the Rockets' near term goal. A good month of sustained quality play is needed to restore credibility. Chris Paul's overall level of play remains a serious concern. The rumor this week of their interest in Cleveland malcontent J.R. Smith, egads! That would render Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey Desperate Daryl. Morey is trying to recover from his awful offseason, but I can't believe he sees J.R. Smith as worthwhile.

Speaking of Morey's offseason work, the Rockets Saturday gain the right to trade Carmelo Anthony. What a bonanza must await in return!

Astros still armed

Not a great look for the Astros that they tugged on their purse strings while the Tampa Bay Rays of all teams guaranteed Charlie Morton $30 million dollars over the next two years. The Astros did not err. Morton was on balance outstanding in his two Astro seasons but he wore down badly this year, and at 35 years old his arm is a ticking bomb. The Astros should add an established starting pitcher, but even if Jeff Luhnow doesn't, the Collin McHugh/Brad Peacock/Josh James/Framber Valdez quartet isn't an indefensible plan to cover three rotation spots while waiting on elite prospect Forrest Whitley's arrival during the 2019 season. If poor performance/injuries are issues, nothing precludes a notable in-season trade. That Verlander fellow worked out okay a couple of seasons ago. A left handed hitter is the obvious other logical Astros' target.

Buzzer Beaters

1. Pipe down Tony La Russa. Harold Baines making the Baseball Hall of Fame is ridiculous. 2. La Russa also used to lambaste those who dared to believe that Mark McGwire might have been a steroid guy. 3. Best teams in the AFC: Bronze-Patriots Silver-Chargers Gold-Chiefs (but barely post-loser Kareem Hunt).

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