ROUGH GOING

Harden injured as Rockets drop another early contest

James Harden had a good night before being injured. Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

The Rockets tipped off at Toyota Center Wednesday night with more questions than their roster had faced in the past two seasons combined. Fans watched to see how they would fare against a formidable Utah Jazz team minus their star point guard Chris Paul for a second straight game, and while a noticeably absent defensive presence resurged, the offense went cold. The Rockets would not only go on to lose the game, but possibly their MVP James Harden as well.

Houston shot out of the gate with an intensity they had otherwise lacked in their two losses so far both on offense and defense. Harden keyed the offense, going 4-4 with 10 points and 5 assists, while Carmelo Anthony was able to warm up early with 9 points. Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell started equally as strong with 11 points.

Foul trouble became an issue, with Anthony, Harden, and Carter-Williams each having picked up 2 fouls with 8:39 left in the second quarter. Eric Gordon struggled to contribute going 0-7 to start from beyond three. Harden's 4-4 start would fizzle into a 5-10 effort by halftime as the Rockets headed into the locker room down eight. Donovan Mitchell continued to build off his strong first quarter, finishing the half with 20 points.

The third quarter began with more of the same theme; strong defense (finally), but an inability to convert open looks on the opposite end. The Rockets would manage to land Jazz front court stalwarts Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors in foul trouble, but cold shooting sabotaged any attempt to close the gap with Utah. Anthony would pour in a few last minute shots to keep the Rockets within 9 at the end of the third, but with the team shooting 26% from beyond the arc, it should have been a much bigger lead. Mitchell continued his onslaught, as his points total ballooned to 28. Jazz led after three, 75-66.

The Rockets began heating up finally in the fourth and an Anthony block followed by an Anthony three on the other end would draw the Rockets to within 6. Harden checked in with around seven minutes left, immediately sparking a run both defensively and offensively to draw to within 5, however a subsequent shot clock violation would stall the run. A timeout was called and before play resumed, Harden was suddenly off to the locker room with the trainer in what would later be diagnosed as a hamstring injury. The loss of Harden would be too much to overcome and the Rockets would fall 100-89 to the Jazz. Harden would leave with 29 points, 5 rebounds and 7 assists, while Mitchell would finish with 38 points, 5 rebounds and 7 assists.

Takeaways

Carmelo Anthony showed promise within the Rockets’ offense, finishing with a season high 22 points after averaging less than 9 in his first three games. Allowing Melo to establish a rhythm like he was able to tonight in games will be pivotal to his ability to contribute moving forward.

Harden's hamstring is obviously something to keep an eye on. While speaking to the media he claimed it was “nothing serious,” and he was just “being cautious.” If true, then the Houston dodged a major bullet. Harden is one of the tougher players in the game and doesn't like sitting out, so if he sits on Friday, it's safe to assume that he's actually hurt.

Once again the Rockets were out-rebounded (47-35) and out-scored in the paint (48-36). Capela finished with 10 points, 12 rebounds, and 2 blocks in a hefty 38 minutes of work, but as it stands, he's really the only capable body down low at the moment. Until Houston gets healthy, expect teams to continue to pound the inside while Capela sits.

Up Next

Houston vs Los Angeles Clippers, Friday, 7:00 pm

 

Most Popular

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome

Listen Live

A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

Photo by Getty Images.

Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome