Point Blank

Don't blame D'Antoni for Rockets woes

Mike D'Antoni is not to blame. Harry How/Getty Images

The Rockets are bad, really bad. They're currently one of the two worst teams in the Western Conference. They lost to the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday night with rookie Luka Doncic scoring the last eleven points to seal the win. With that loss, Houston wrapped up an 0-3 road trip after dropping games in Utah and Minnesota. The team is 3 games under .500 and have lost 7 of their last 10 contests. The natives in Houston are getting more than restless as they have been patient - but now that patience in wearing thin. Sure, there have been injuries and brief suspensions, but overall there has been no bench, no defense and no signs of the unstoppable offense of a season ago. The rotation is thin, the roster is weak and the role players that were a big part of the team's success last season are gone. As bad as they have been in all of those areas, the head coach should not take the blame for this season of shame.

As Bill Parcells once said, "If they want you to cook the dinner, at least they ought to let you shop for some of the groceries." Daryl Morey hasn't subscribed to this philosophy in the past and he certainly hasn't done so this season. If he had, there is no way that Carmelo Anthony, a player that caused Mike D'Antoni to resign in New York, would've been on the roster this season. The offense that was so successful a year ago was predicated on shooters spreading the floor and knocking down 3 point shots, while being active and aggressive on defense, switching and rotating as they look to run the floor in transition and get out on the break.

Last year's roster had a plethora of shooters and athletic and versatile wings that could play multiple positions and knock down shots. In the off season a handful of those players departed for big contracts or were traded away. In thier place, Morey brought in more of his favorite past time, former lottery picks that haven't panned out, as well as younger and cheaper players that failed to posess the same or similar skill sets as the individuals that moved on. In a nutshell, this is a major reason why this year's team has struggled mightily on both ends of the floor. The system is the same, the shots are still wide open, the rotations and switches are there for the taking, yet the results are night and day different from a season ago.

On top of all that, Jeff Bzdelik, the defensive guru who coached a top six defense for Houston, walked away and said he was retiring to spend more time with his family. Although he was talked into returning after Thanksgiving, the defense has yet to do the same. The roster is younger and less experienced than last season, and don't understand thier roles and reponsibilities on either end of the floor, especially on defense. Bzdelik's system is based on reads and rotations, helping the helper and clogging the middle when perimeter individual "D" breaks down.

When the system is working and running like a well-oiled machine, players are communicating, talking and are willing to give up their body for the betterment of the team. For younger players who never had terminology, sets or plays to run on defense, trying to be where they are supposed to be is like waking up in the Twilight Zone. Not to mention how much more stressful it becomes when you are trying to do it for a championship-caliber team. When you are favored to return to the conference finals and possibly compete for a title, the lights are brighter, the pressure is greater and the expectaions are significantly higher. It takes time and a great deal of hard work and studying film to get the concepts down -- that becomes more complicated when players and coaches come and go and the season is in full swing. Now time is of the essence and it looks like another round of roster changes could be on the horizon. I say that to warn you that things could get worse before they start to get better, so be prepared.

Mike D'Antoni should not be blamed for all that has gone wrong this season and he should not be the scapegoat for the mishaps and missed steps of the General Manager. This is a coach that has won or been up for Coach of the Year in each of the last two seasons and led the franchise to the most wins in team history less than a season ago. He transformed the offense and maximized production and scoring on the way to pushing the eventual NBA champions to the brink of elimination in the conference finals.

He went home for the summer expecting to "Run it Back" with the same roster or a similar squad to the one that took the Rockets to unpresidented success on the way to that long playoff push. Instead of getting what he had hoped for, he was dealt a totally new hand while expecting the same results. That is a tall task for any coach in any sport and one that is highly unlikely in hoops. Mike the messenger is not the problem and should not be blamed. The burden of the hole that this team is sitting in should sit firmly on the shoulders of Daryl Morey. He created this mess of a roster and he should be the one to fix it. As the fan base holds tight to the mantra of "In Daryl we trust," time is ticking and patience is wearing thin, even with the rowdiest of Rockets fans.

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RAVENS 33, TEXANS 16

5 observations from the Ravens win over the Texans

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Let's be honest; the Texans were not going to beat the Ravens. Baltimore has better players, a better quarterback and a better coaching staff. (And oh, a better kicker). All of that was on display in the Ravens' 33-16 win.

The Ravens move to 2-0, while the Texans dropped to 0-2 after facing the AFC's two best teams.

The Texans will still likely contend for a playoff spot, but nothing the last two weeks indicates they are anywhere near contending in the AFC. A look at five things from the Ravens win:

1) Oh, Brien...It did not take long for Bill O'Brien's goofy coaching to rear its ugly head. Down 3-0 at their own 34 as the first quarter was running out, O'Brien chose to go for it on fourth and one. The play was predictably blown up, the Ravens quickly scored to make it 10-0, and the Texans were instantly in a hole against a superior opponent. You can't give points away against the Ravens. They might have scored anyway with a punt, but there was no stopping them with a short field.

2) Some positives on defense. Despite the score, The Texans looked much better on that side of the ball against an explosive offense. J.J. Watt had two sacks, the team had four total, and they kept Lamar Jackson from destroying them. Seven of the points were scored by the Ravens defense, and O'Brien's gaffe led to seven more. The Ravens wore them down in the fourth quarter, but they played well enough until then to keep the team in the game had the offense been better. They did not force any turnovers, however, and that was one of the differences in the game. They were also blown off the ball on a fourth and one in the fourth quarter that led to the Ravens' 30th points and could not stop the run at all in the fourth quarter. But that's what the Ravens do with a lead, and the Texans offense gave them no breaks by being unable to stay on the field.

3) The difference between real contenders...The Ravens were just so much more skilled on both sides of the ball. Defensively, they focused on taking away the run. David Johnson averaged 3.1 yards per carry. Will Fuller had as many catches as you did. The Ravens forced two turnovers on just really good football plays. The Texans don't make plays like that. They might against lesser teams, but if your goal is to compete with the best, it's just not good enough.

4) Deshaun Watson needs to be better. His numbers looked so so on the surface (25 of 36, 275 yards, 1 TD, 1 interception). He was sacked four times and added 17 rushing yards on five carries. He did not make plays late when they needed one here or there to maybe get back in the game. With his big contract, it's time for Watson to stop being close to elite and take the next step. His interception was more of being fooled by Marcus Peters than throwing a bad ball, but the Texans were just 3 of 9 on third downs. Throw in the ill-advised fourth down play, and they were just 3 of 10 extending drives. Give the Ravens a lot of credit, but again, to compete with the best, you have to be better than that.

5) Now what? The Texans travel to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers, who have not been impressive in their two wins. Still, it's hard to see Houston as anything but serious underdogs. They are last in the AFC South, and have a lot of work to do. The defense showed some promise at times, but will have to continue to improve. The offense has a long way to go. They match up better with the Steelers than they do the Ravens and Chiefs, but that does not mean they can win. If you were hoping they would give you some indication they can be more than just also-rans, they failed to do that on any level against either the Chiefs or Ravens.

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