Rockets Report

Harden powers Rockets to undefeated week

James Harden averaged 37 points per game last week. Houston Rockets/Facebook

Another week into the season and the Houston Rockets continued to remain an undefinable enigma. After finishing winless against teams with losing records two weeks ago, the Rockets followed that up with an undefeated week against quality playoff level competition. The three-game win streak returned Houston to an even .500 record at 14-14. Houston remains last in the Southwest Division, but have moved up to 12th in the Western Conference overall.

Tuesday night Houston hosted the Trail Blazers looking to make up for the blowout loss Portland handed them earlier in the season. Portland jumped out early, leading by as much as 12 in the first quarter, but Houston would close the gap to keep the game close through the half. It remained a back and forth match until Houston's bench ignited a 25-5 run near the end of the third to effectively put the game away. James Harden led the Rockets with 29 points, and--despite an awful shooting night--Chris Paul ended the night with an 11 point, 10 assistance, 11 rebound triple-double.

Houston followed Tuesday night's much needed win with slug fest victory against LeBron James and the Lakers. In a battle that featured two of the games best players, Harden would come away the victor behind a 50-point, 11 assist, 10 rebound triple-double.

Saturday night Houston took on the Memphis Grizzlies in a quick road trip game. As the Rockets had begun to pick up steam it seemed like a matchup against the 16-12 Grizzlies would serve as stiff competition. The game itself was anything but, and a poor shooting first half from Memphis proved too difficult to recover from as Houston remained in command throughout. A late push from the Grizzlies would narrow what was at one point a 27-point lead, but Houston would hold on thanks to a 32 point, 10 assist, 12 rebound performance from Harden.

The Week of The Beard

In spite of Houston's overall record, Harden continues to perform at the same high level that earned him last season's MVP nod. Harden ended the week with two straight triple-doubles and his 50-point triple-double--the fourth such of his career--became a new NBA record. Harden finished the week averaging 37 points, 8.3 assists, and 7.6 rebounds during their current win streak.

Bench Bolstered

The past two weeks have seen several key players return from injury. Last week was center Nene, who stepped in and immediately contributed big minutes. Wednesday marked the debut of Brandon Knight, an offseason acquisition from Phoenix who had yet to play an NBA game since suffering an ACL injury on February 17, 2017. Prior to the injury, Knight was a capable scorer, averaging 15.2 points and 4.3 assists over six seasons. The Rockets will bring him into the fold slowly, and if he can regain that scoring ability expect to see a healthy share of minutes headed Knight's way.

R-E-L-A-X

The sirens have been going off throughout Houston concerning the Rockets' sub .500 record up until last night. It's true that Houston is dead last in their division. They're 12th in the Western Conference. It doesn't sound great, but luckily parity has been the theme of the season. As a result, the Rockets are only 1.5 games back in the division and 5 games out of first place in the conference. No one likes to see losses, but rest assured that the Rockets are far from out of it.

Looking ahead

Houston opens the week before Christmas with a Monday matchup at home against the Jazz, followed by a Wednesday game hosting the Wizards. They'll face a quick turnaround with an away game at Miami before returning home to take on the Spurs on Saturday.

The Jazz have yet to lose against the Rockets in two contests this season, and the Wizards defeated Houston in their only contest so far as well. Thursday will be the Rocket's first look against a struggling Heat team, and Saturday will serve as a rubber match in the I-10 battle against the Spurs. The past two weeks have left me 0-6 in calling weeks, but I'll try to do my best Rockets impression and rebound. I'm calling a 3-1 week.

So how pumped are you about this Rockets' season so far? Are you willing to fake it a little? Their 5-3 start is OK, but nothing to fire up the masses.

The Rockets are going to be very good again this season. Somehow that's probably part of the problem with the relative apathy for this team. Other than within the Rockets organization, or among the most loyal and hopeful fans, the Rockets are not considered a first tier NBA championship contender.

Russell Westbrook makes them a more compelling game to game watch. Other than that (and The Brodie is a big that), the Rockets have a bit of same old same old feel to them. Their same old same old isn't bad. It's quite good. James Harden is going to keep putting up astounding stats. The Rockets are going to keep firing up three point shots like no other. They will win plenty of games. But does it excite you on a regular basis? Even with the Warriors out of the way this season, until or unless the Rockets are in at least the Western Conference Final, they're not going to be vigorously embraced as a title threat. That's a tough standard. But it's where the Rockets are.

Astros making off-season news

It's still kind of letdown mode from the Astros losing the last two games of the World Series. Plus the off season Hot Stove of transactions isn't even warming yet, as we wait to see where Gerrit Cole signs to pitch for the next several years. Among many other moves.

Anyone can understand a father wanting to set up his son going forward. UH basketball Head Coach Kelvin Sampson has done a stupendous job rebuilding the Cougars, so in his new contract was able to have his son Kellen designated as "head coach in waiting." Jim Crane is the lead owner of the Astros, so we should all grasp his moving son Jared into Astros' business operations, and moving out Reid Ryan in the process. I now note that I don't know Reid really at all on a personal level, and not all that deeply on a professional level. While it's the on field results that by far most shape the image of the franchise, when the Astros were a joke in this city, bringing on the relentlessly upbeat, approachable, and classy son of Nolan as President of Business Operations was a notable step in the Astros' return to relevance. With Reid reassigned, in a non-shocking non-coincidence, Nolan is out as an Astros Special Advisor.

Key stretch for Texans after off week

Allow me a brief semi-screed about the Texans' open week. Most of the sports world refers to it as a "bye" week. Most of the sports world is wrong! A bye is when an individual or team advances in a tournament bracket without having to play. If for the first time in franchise history the Texans finish as one of the top two seeds in the AFC, they will earn a bye week past the Wild Card round directly into the Divisional round of the playoffs. A week during the season when a team has no game scheduled is not a bye week. It's an open week, or an off week, or a week without a game. It's not a bye week! I feel a little better for that, thanks.

As for the Texans, their open week (!) finds them in good position in the AFC South. At 6-3, they'll pick up tackling the defining stretch of their regular season schedule. Deshaun Watson gives them hope in any game anywhere, but it's unlikely the Texans win two road playoff games to get to the Super Bowl. They need the playoff bye which means one home win from a spot in AFC Championship game. There are two division leaders ahead of the Texans in the AFC. The Ravens are 6-2, the Patriots are 7-1. The Texans play both within their next three games: at Baltimore, home vs New England. Those challenges are sandwiched around a home game with the Colts. Indy is behind the Texans at 5-3 (before the Colts play the dismal Dolphins Sunday) but with a win at NRG Stadium would own the AFC South tiebreaker. With a loss in Baltimore they're probably Texans Toast with regard to securing a bye. With a win they'd have a real shot at bit, winning tiebreakers over both the Ravens and the Chiefs.

SEC showdown

College football's latest regular season game of the year has LSU at Alabama Saturday afternoon. The Crimson Tide has rolled the Tigers in their last eight meetings. Two of the last three years LSU didn't even score.This season's Alabama's defense isn't up to usual elite Nick Saban unit standards, LSU has an explosive modern up-tempo attack for the first time, well, ever. With a strong showing and a win Tiger quarterback Joe Burrow can about cinch up the Heisman Trophy. LSU's only Heisman winner did it 60 years ago, Billy Cannon in 1959. Entirely gratuitous follow up fact!: Syracuse won the National Championship that season, beating Texas in the Cotton Bowl.

Buzzer Beaters

1. I'll take LSU +6 ½ 2. Toronto or Seattle Sunday? MLS Cup matchup! 3. Best rarely used synonyms for steal: Bronze-snaffle Silver-purloin Gold-filch





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