THE ROCKETS REPORT

Friday night loss to Pelicans is only blemish on a 3-1 week for Rockets

Mike D'Antoni and Chris Paul are looking ahead to a big week. Rockets.com

After a week of statement games The Rockets entered this past week on a four game winning streak and a fully healthy squad for the first time of the new year. Houston would add two more wins to extend the streak early in the week before ultimately falling to the Pelicans Friday night. Sunday would be a bounce back game and the Rockets would finish 3-1 for the week.

Houston is now 35-13, and remain second in the Western Conference. Golden State leads the conference by four games.

Game 45: Rockets vs. Miami Heat (W, 99-90)

Fresh off of a pivotal win Saturday night against the Golden State Warriors, the Rockets hosted the fourth best team in the eastern conference, the Miami Heat. The Heat pounded the ball inside early and often, and pulled ahead of the Rockets early. The lead stretched as far as 14 points in Miami’s favor partly due to yet another cold shooting night for Eric Gordon from beyond the arc (0-7 for the night, as well as 0-9 Saturday versus the Warriors). The Rockets continued to fire from deep to counter the Heat’s inside dominance (finishing 56-34 in the paint against the Rockets), and it would not be until midway through the third quarter that the lead would swing back in Houston’s favor. It would remain a tight game as the lead switched back and forth, and with a slim three-point lead and 39 seconds remaining, Chris Paul pulled up and nailed a two-point dagger to seal the win for the Rockets. Paul would finish with 16 points, 6 assists, and 6 rebounds. James Harden led the team with 28 points and 5 assists, and 2 blocks.

Game 46: Rockets at Dallas Mavericks (W, 104-97)

To the surprise of literally no one, the Rockets--at full strength--took the victory at American Airlines center. Houston relied on a 38-point first quarter to survive a 13-point second, as the three point shot went from hot to cold. By the third quarter, the game was already well out of reach. The Rockets would cruise to their sixth straight victory behind Harden’s 25 points and 13 assists. Trevor Ariza would follow with 23 points on 5-14 from three. Gordon finally shook his yips and finished 4-7 from three with 17 points on the night.

Game 47: Rockets at New Orleans Pelicans (L, 115-113)

New Orleans is a big team, surrounded by guys who understand that their job is to either get the ball to their bigs or space the court and knock down kickouts. So when the Rockets play the Pelicans it's all about whether their dominating inside presence can outlast Houston’s three-point air assault. Friday night, however, the Rockets were ice cold in the first half from beyond the arc and Anthony Davis and company jumped all over the opportunity. After trailing by as much as 21 early in the second half, Houston shook off their cold start behind a pair of deep threes by Gordon and came roaring back. They eventually tied the game at 104 with 2:34 to go in the fourth, but clutch shooting--including a game-sealing offensive rebound and putback by Demarcus Cousins--would proved to be too much to overcome. Paul led the Rockets with 38 points and 8 assists. Gordon added 27 off the bench, and Harden finished with 23 points and 11 assists.

Game 48: Houston vs. Phoenix Suns (W, 113-102)

The Suns arrived in Houston Sunday looking to end a three-game losing streak during the Rockets’ first afternoon game of the season and came out of the gates swinging. Thirty-six seconds into the game Trevor Ariza was fouled hard going up for a layup and soon exited the game with a hamstring injury after making his free throw attempts. Sloppy ball handling and an unusually large amount of time stoppages prevented the Rockets from getting in sync at any point during the first half, which allowed the Suns to remain competitive throughout. It wasn't until a 32-24 third quarter that Houston was able to pull away and seal the victory. Harden paced the Rockets with 27 points, 8 assists, and 10 rebounds. Chris Paul ended with 17 points and 5 assists, and Clint Capela added a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds.

Looking Ahead:

Fewer games, but tougher opponents: The Rockets are back in action Tuesday at the Toyota Center against the Orlando Magic before heading west to San Antonio on Thursday, followed by a Saturday showdown with LeBron James and the Cavaliers in Cleveland. Orlando could catch Houston looking ahead into the week, but the Rockets should be able to take the win. San Antonio on their home court will prove a much tougher test as well as the nationally televised Cavaliers game. I expect the Rockets to take the Orlando match and split the rest of the week, finishing 2-1.

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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF O'BRIEN'S COACHING

Not my job: Texans no match for the Ravens

Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

The Texans fell to the Ravens 33-16 in a game they had a shot at winning. Most of you reading this will probably think I'm crazy for saying that. I assure you, I meant what I said. One of the reasons they didn't was because Bill O'Brien made a few questionable decisions that cost this team.

The first was the 4th & 1 decision. Deciding to go for it was bad enough. They were down 3-0 near the end of the first quarter with the ball on their own 34-yard line. This is not a situation that calls for a gamble or statement play. The play call itself was okay I guess: a play action bootleg with two short options. It was read and played perfectly by the Ravens defense. Deshaun Watson had nowhere to go with the ball and had to throw it at Darren Fells' back before getting sacked. That led to a quick Ravens touchdown and an early 10-0 deficit. I seriously think he has PTSD after that playoff loss to the Chiefs when it comes to fourth down calls. Bumbling Bill strikes again!

When they got the ball back, they scored a touchdown thanks to more play action passes and pre-snap motion. It was as if Bumbling Bill realized his offensive line was outmatched by the front seven they're opposing. Sure Watson is mobile and looks like a magician escaping sacks, but misdirection helps throw the defense off and keeps Watson from breaking into 177,000,000 pieces. Oh, and the quick reads were a good idea as well. Too bad Bumbling Bill went away from that and opted for longer developing routes. Or will he blame it on Timid Tim Kelly? Or was Waiting Watson holding onto the ball too long? I blame all three.

Also, can we stop starting drives with the predictable run, run, pass combo please? First down should be play action rollout with Watson having the ability to choose to run if it's there. More run/pass/option plays need to be called as well. Incorporate more things that we saw when Watson was on his way to winning rookie of the year before his knee was sacrificed for the Astros.

Credit where it's due: the end of the first half to get a field goal with a minute and change left was good to see. Typically, these situations tend to make Bumbling Bill come out. I liked the quick slant to Cobb with no timeouts. They were able to spike the ball and get the field goal up.

The game was still within reach at 23-13 in the beginning of the fourth quarter. On a 4th & 1, they gave up a 30 yard touchdown run on a direct snap to Mark Ingram. I saw gaps on both sides of the defensive line pre-snap. Sure enough, Ingram got a lead block from the Ravens human plough of a fullback and that effectively put the nail in the coffin at 30-13. I know the tendency is to quarterback sneak or run up the middle, but don't leave gaps along the defensive line trying to stack the middle. First time defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver will take the L on this one.

Overall, I'll give O'Brien and his coaching staff a C- this game. Mistakes were made that could've cost them a legit shot at winning, but the Keke Coutee fumble return for a touchdown wasn't their fault. The play calling menu was brought to us this week by Craft Pita via the "What's Eric Eating" podcast. Tune in next week for another "Not my job!"

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