FINISH STRONG

Here's why a strong finish is crucial for the Rockets

Composite image by Brandon Strange.

There can be no excuse for error in this eight-game stretch. The Rockets are facing five teams that are over .500. Each of these teams could bring a challenge to the Rockets. The Rockets are in a tight spot because of their seeding. In the Western Conference standings, the Rockets are sixth.

Salman Ali, writer for SportsMap and ESPN Houston, discussed the Rockets being four different teams in a season. In this situation, the Rockets cannot go through a series of mood swings having the Dallas Mavericks and Milwaukee Bucks in the first two games of the shorter season. Even though Rockets have five tough teams on their schedule, they still cannot afford to lose. If they do, this could cause them to fall in the Western Conference seeding. The Rockets cannot afford to see the Los Angeles Lakers nor Clippers in the first round of the playoffs.

The Rockets must make a strong push, so they are able to grab the fourth seed. For the Rockets to grab the fourth seed, they must be consistent. Meaning the leaders of the Rockets, James Harden and Russell Westbrook, must remain on the same page. On February 11, 2020, the Rockets hosted the Boston Celtics. Harden and Westbrook both combined for 78 points in a Rockets win over the Celtics. With those two players on the same page, it makes everybody's role much easier. The best way to win games, is to have a foundation.

In these final eight games in Orlando, the Rockets will see LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Luka Doncic, Kristaps Porzingis, Damian Lillard, Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and more. The Rockets' zone and man defense must be superb.

Luckily, the Rockets re-signed Luc Mbah a Moute. On another positive note, Westbrook has played great isolation defense this year. Westbrook is 25th in defensive rating this year and Harden is third in steals with 106 on the season. He has been able to disrupt the passing lanes with his quick hands. P.J.Tucker at 6'5, is averaging 5.3 rebounds defensively as power forward and center. Hopefully, these are the keys to success for the Rockets' defense.

The biggest advantage the Rockets have, is their offense. As the Rockets are ranked ninth on offense but second in points per game. From the last two previous years, the Rockets were ranked in the top five but now fallen to ninth place. The reason for that is because of the Rockets lost identity on offense. Bringing over Westbrook was a challenge and not having Eric Gordon stay healthy also hurt.

Things could change now because the Rockets are healthy, they have an identity, and they have a three-time leading scorer in James Harden. Plus, Westbrook is now averaging 27.5 points per game while Harden is averaging 34 points per game.

If the Rockets want to make a strong push, Harden and Westbrook must be on the same page.

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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans loss rests squarely on this decision

Another tough loss for the Texans. Photo by Getty Images.

There are times in which you gamble and it pays off. Then there are times in which you gamble and lose badly. Today was definitely the latter. The Texans fell to the Titans 42-36 in an overtime thriller. The loss rests squarely on the head of interim head coach Romeo Crennel and his ill-timed gambling at the end of the game.

It started with the gamble to go for it on 4th&1 on the Titans' 35-yard line with 4:37 left in the game. That move said two things: A) we're on the road at 1-4 against the 4-0 division leader up by one point so let's try to end this, or B) I don't trust our kicker to make a 53-yard field goal. They converted because David Johnson is good for slamming into the backs of the offensive line for at least a yard or three. The next gamble came eight plays later. It was 4th & Goal from the 1-yard line. The play call was a pass. Deshaun Watson found Randall Cobb after scrambling to extend the play and putting the ball in a tight window on the sideline where only Cobb could catch it. Here's where I started to have a problem with the gambling.

That touchdown made it 36-29 in favor of the Texans. Up by seven with less than two minutes left in the game, the "right" call would be to kick the extra point to potentially go up by eight. That forces the opposition to have to score a touchdown and convert a two point conversion in order to tie the game. Alas...Crennel gambled by trying to force things, went for two, and came up short. Kenny Rogers once said: You've got to know when to hold 'em. Know when to fold 'em. Know when to walk away. Know when to run.

The porous defense, however, gave up the game tying touchdown and extra point with four seconds left to send the game into overtime. From there, the Titans got the ball in overtime and drove down the field for the game winning score. A team that played a game on Tuesday evening bullied a team on Sunday at noon. Let that sink in. Sure, Derrick Henry is a linebacker playing running back, but the amount of yards you gave up to him was unacceptable.

Not kicking that extra point to go up by eight with less than two minutes left (1:50 to be exact) was the key coaching move that I feel cost them the game. There's no coming back from blunders like that when you're now 1-5 and would need to go at least 8-2 with tons of help down the stretch to have an outside shot at the newly created seventh spot in the playoffs. You had the division leader down and were in position to get a division win to go to 2-4. Instead, you're now in position to help the Dolphins continue to improve their franchise from the boneheaded decisions Bill O'Brien made before his exit. Crennel and staff coached a good game, until the end when it mattered most. With an extra playoff spot available, they still have an outside shot to make it, but it'll be difficult.

This city and fanbase deserve better. One day, they'll get it and get a winner. Until then unfortunately, they'll have to settle for purgatory, disappointment, and mediocrity. Hold tight. I see good things coming one day Houston football fans.

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