Every-Thing Sports

Good Rockets can be better, and they will need to be as the season goes on

Coming into this season, the Rockets were thought of as a possible Western Conference contender. Maybe not one of the teams that could make it to the Finals, but one of the top four to five for sure. Well, 14 games into the season, they're 11-3 and a half game behind the Lakers for the top spot in the West. James Harden is off to another MVP level start averaging an unbelievable 39.5 points per game. The experiment of pairing Harden with longtime friend Russell Westbrook is looking like a success so far. Although Westbrook has had to be load managed given his injury history, things appear to be flowing smoothly.

If you know me and follow my writings and whatnot, you know there's a but coming. Well, here it is: as good as things are, they can and need to be better. Some of the issues I have are necessary in order for them to contend for not just for seeding in the West, or a deep playoff run, but possibly an NBA title.

Harden's shooting percentages

While Harden is making history with his 39.5 scoring average, his field goal percentage (41.7) is his lowest since his rookie season (40.3) and his three point percentage (33.2) is his lowest since the 2016-17 season (34.7). While those are career lows or close to it, his free throw percentage (88.1) is a career best. Imagine if Harden was shooting at his career averages of 44.2% from the field and 36.4% from three? I'm pretty sure he'd be averaging well over 40 a game.

Health

Harden has been very durable over the course of his career, so this applies to him as far as his stamina is concerned, especially when going deep into the playoffs. Westbrook has been load managed, and rightfully so. His history of injuries, specifically his knees, at his age (31) and style of play require his minutes to be closely monitored. Eric Gordon is out for another month or so after knee surgery. Hopefully this'll have a twofold effect: getting Gordon healthy, and allowing other guys to play. With other guys playing, they will hopefully gain Mike D'Antoni's trust come playoff time given his penchant for shrinking his rotation in the postseason. Health isn't something you can correct or fix, but it's crucial to this team given the way they're built.

Defense dammit!

When you can score at the rate the Rockets can, if you can play average defense, you'll win a bleep ton of games. While they currently have .786 win percentage, it could be even better if they weren't giving up 114.2 points a game! That's 22nd in the league for those keep score. Letting Jeff Bzdelik go was a horrible decision. I don't care what was the issue, it should've been settled. Maybe switching everything isn't a good idea. Zone schemes and outside the box ideas should all be on the table right now. We're talking about a team that gave up 158 points in regulation, but won because they scored 159.

The D'Antoni Factor

D'Antoni is essentially a lame duck coach. His coaching staff was picked apart this past offseason and he put the word out there that he ended contract extension talks. As previously mentioned, he notoriously short with his bench, and is known for being an offensive-minded coach. If he can go against the grain and focus more on defense, as well as learn to trust guys outside his top seven to eight in the rotation, this team may go places. Harden is playing 37 minutes a night right now. Guys like Ben McLemore and Chris Clemons deserve a fair shot at more minutes. Isaiah Hartenstein has improved some over the last few years and may be ready to play more despite the team signing Tyson Chandler. D'Antoni has a say in all these matters which are all critical to any successes this tea wishes to have this year.

I'm not going to be overly confident the Rockets will have any and/or all of these fixed. I also won't be a homer and think they'll be in the NBA Finals either. They're off to a hot start. The Golden State Warriors' deal with the devil appears to be up given their current state. The Lakers have formed a "super team" and are sitting on top of the West. Meanwhile, the Celtics and Bucks in the East, as well as the Clippers and Nuggets in the West are all formidable. The Rockets have to be able to clean up some of their messesif they expect to make it through the wide wild West. Even if they manage to make it that far, they still have some heavy hitters from the East to beat in order to win a title. It hasn't gotten easier because the bully (the Warriors) appears to be broken. If anything, it's harder because there's so much parity that one can't pick one or two teams and say they're the overwhleming favorites. There is more hope than previous seasons for the Rockets. But it's ultimately up to them to produce.

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This week, the NASCAR Cup Series heads for the high banks of Michigan for the Firekeepers Casino 400. This will be NASCAR's second doubleheader of the season as they continue to draw closer and closer to the playoffs. Earlier in the summer, NASCAR announced the final races before the playoffs and in those number of races they announced that they will be running two doubleheaders. One this Saturday and Sunday at Michigan and another in a few weeks at Dover. We saw a double feature race earlier this year at Pocono, so it will be interesting to see here in a different set of circumstances at Michigan. This track is a two and half mile oval that races similarly to a track like Auto Club as they both have plenty of grooves and lanes to run on. With this aero package it should be interesting to see if the racing is similar to last year's.

It was announced this week that NASCAR would unveil their last batch of races for the remainder of 2020 and for the most part the season remains pretty much the same. Richmond will get back one of it's races that was cancelled and Phoenix Raceway will remain the season finale. NASCAR had made it clear that they were hoping to keep their playoff races intact and luckily they were able to. We will still get to see Martinsville decide who gets to race in the final four, and we will still see Bristol in the playoffs as well. The only question that remains now is will these races have fans? I have a feeling that at tracks like Las Vegas we will see no fans but on tracks like Texas and Bristol or Richmond, I have a feeling they will be much more lenient. Only time will tell as everything remains fluid.

It was announced on Thursday that Erik Jones will not return to the #20 car for Joe Gibbs in 2021. This clears a path for the next Gibbs driver in the pipeline, Christopher Bell. The writing had been on the wall for a while as Toyota and Joe Gibbs had too many drivers and not enough seats to fit all of them. The same thing happened back in 2017 when it was announced that Erik Jones would be replacing Matt Kenseth in the same car. While I hate to see Jones lose his ride, I think it will only be temporary as there are a bunch of good rides available. Besides, you have to feel as if he is now the favorite to replace Jimmie Johnson next season after Brad Keselowski announced he will be back at Penske next season.

Another headline that was announced this week was the changes that will be made to how the field will start at the Daytona Roval. NASCAR also announced Thursday that they would use weighted metrics to decide who starts on the front-row. The formula will consist of three criteria including, finishing position in the previous race, position in owner points, and fastest lap time in the race. None of this makes any sense to the average viewer. In fact, most of the drivers I would imagine don't understand it either. There were probably better ways of doing this including actual practice and qualifying. I can understand that NASCAR is trying to do everything in their power to make sure drivers are limited at the racetrack, but this is becoming more and more unnecessary by the week.

As I mentioned earlier, Erik Jones will be looking for a ride next season. What better way to prove you belong than by winning races and that's what I predict he will do this weekend at Michigan. This is a track that is special to him considering he is a native Michigander. While he hasn't had the best finishes here over the past few years, I will say he has been running well. Despite a lackluster 24th place finish at New Hampshire, before that he had rattled off back-to-back top tens with a fifth at Texas and a sixth at Kansas. I look for him to get back in the grove and get his third career win and leave a big impression on all the teams looking for a driver next season. Look for Erik Jones to win one of the races this weekend.

The other driver I have winning this weekend is Joey Logano. On Saturday, Logano will roll off first to begin the weekend. This is a track where Joey has been stellar at as well. He has won here four times including back in 2013 in a race that put Logano back on the map and began his reign at Penske. I look for him to get win #4 this weekend at Michigan.

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