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.

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

 

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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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