NBA PLAYOFFS

Fred Faour: 5 thoughts on the Rockets 104-101 win over the Timberwolves in Game 1

Chris Paul (left) was not good in Game 1. James Harden was. Houston Rockets/Facebook

The real season has started for the Rockets, and how they perform in the playoffs will determine how this team is remembered. The opening series against the Minnesota T Wolves will be a test, as Joel Blank writes, but one the Rockets should pass. They did in Game 1, but it was not easy. 

Here are five quick thoughts from the Rockets Game 1, 104-101 win over the Timberwolves.

1) Don't panic: Yes, the game was close and in doubt until the final seconds. The Rockets needed a huge effort from James Harden (44 points) to escape with a win. He came up big in the fourth quarter in particular. But the Rockets can play a lot better. The live by the 3, die by the 3 mentality almost killed them. They were a brutal 10 of 37 from behind the arc in Game 1. Harden was 7 of 12, making the rest of the team 3 of 25. That simply won't cut it. Expect a much better effort in Game 2. 

2) The Wolves can improve, too, but how much? Karl-Anthony Towns had just eight points and the Wolves seemed to ignore him in the paint. He should be much more involved going forward. But it's also hard to expect 16 points out of Derek Rose every night. Still, a nice, balanced game from the Wolves, who had every chance to steal Game 1. 

3) Chris Paul needs to be much better. He had just 14 points on 5 of 14 shooting, but most telling was a season high six turnovers, including two really bad ones late in the game when the Rockets should have closed it out. They will need more from him if they are to accomplish their goals and protecting the basketball late in games should be priority No. 1. 

4) Mismatch on the bench: The Rockets should have the advantage in depth, but they were outscored 38-16 by the Wolves bench in Game 1, part of the reason the Wolves hung around so long. 

5) Closing the door: Harden's big fourth-quarter effort got it done, but the Rockets tried their hardest to fail to close out the game. They gave up a free fast break after a missed free throw where everyone stood around, thinking there was another free throw to come. Paul's awful pass gave the Wolves a chance at a late-tying three. The game basically became a Harden one on one, run down the clock contest. That's fine if Harden is hitting his shots, and he was in Game 1. But they lose this game a lot of nights. The late-game questions will continue, especially if they blow a game like this.

The bottom line: Losing a Game 1 at home is never ideal, so the Rockets did well to escape. The Timberwolves came in having already essentially started the playoffs with a play-in game, while the Rockets have been coasting for weeks, so the signs all pointed to Minnesota throwing a scare into them. Having said that, Paul will be better in Game 2, Mike D'Antoni will make some adjustments that will hopefully lead to better 3-point shooting, the bench should be more competitive and the Rockets should improve as the series goes on. 

 

 

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Another tough loss for Houston. Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images.

The Houston Texans lost again as their road game ineptitude continues. Former Texans stars DeAndre Hopkins and J.J. Watt helped the Cardinals to the 31-5 victory.

1. The lack of talent is getting exposed earlier and earlier each week. The Texans have seen games slip away faster and faster from them each week. The team is overmatched almost everywhere.

2. Penalties remain a problem for the Texans. It seems like clockwork the team gets an illegal motion or illegal formation each week. Jordan Akins torpedoed a drive with a chop block. Max Scharping erased a positive play with a hold.

3. Davis Mills had some solid moments, but again, this team isn't good. It is hard to assess Mills with this team. He's making quicker decisions but he doesn't have the time or the players to make big plays.

4. The offensive line stinks. The interior of the line is still a mess and with Laremy Tunsil down the edges find themselves shaky as well. The running backs don't block well. The blocking tight ends don't block well. It is bad football in what was supposed to be a much-improved unit.

5. Desmond King was the best returner in the preseason. The team elected to give Andre Roberts an opportunity for a few games, but with his departure, the duties went to King. King is the most successful returner the Texans have had in a long while. Yes, it is that clear after just one game.

6. Max Scharping was benched in favor of Justin McCray. McCray produced similar levels of success. Scharping was benched last year for a journey-man veteran as well. The former second-round pick isn't getting it done.

7. Speaking of former second-round picks, Lonnie Johnson had an interception. That was the highlight of his day. Otherwise, Johnson frequently has me asking "what is Lonnie Johnson doing?" The former second-round pick at cornerback has been less than impressive at safety. Johnson seems to frequently be out of position or making the wrong choice in coverage.

8. DeAndre Hopkins had a solid day against the team that traded him away. Hopkins hauled in seven catches for 53 yards and a touchdown. After he scored, Hopkins looked to bring his hands together and mimic a prayer motion. I don't anticipate this was a nod to Arian Foster but perhaps could this have been about Jack Easterby?

9. The Texans had some sacks, but little of that action came when the game was close. Jonathan Greenard added two sacks to his total. The success Greenard is having is frustrating when you consider he couldn't get on the field last season. Charles Omenihu returned to action and had some pressures for the defense.

10. During the game reports surfaced that the Panthers might be interested in trading for Deshaun Watson. It was also reported by the Houston Chronicle Watson had vetoed a trade to Philadelphia, so the Eagles will not be involved in the Watson sweepstakes. The Panthers can only trade two first-round picks. The Miami Dolphins have three first-round picks they can trade for Deshaun Watson.

11. The Texans decided on a "culture" head coach in David Culley. His team has looked lifeless on the road. While the Texans took their beating, the Lions gave it their all against a good Rams team. Detroit is winless, but they play harder and better than the Texans. It grows clearer each week "culture" is meaningless if the team can't win.

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