A NEW LOOK

How Rockets players are slowly adjusting to Russell Westbrook

Though opening night didn't go as planned for Houston, Rockets fans did get a taste as to what Russell Westbrook could provide to an already potent offense. The Rockets were noticeably faster (27 fast break points), more athletic (won the rebounding battle 57-53), and had someone who could take over the game with reckless abandon when James Harden had an off night. After a somewhat murky preseason where it wasn't quite clear if the Rockets had acquired a deteriorated version of the 2016-17 MVP, Westbrook put those worries to bed early on night one, finishing with 24 points, 16 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals, and 1 block on decent efficiency.

"He's a gamer," said Rockets head coach Mike D'Antoni at Friday's practice. "When the lights come on, that's when he's the best. He plays from athleticism, just a competitive, ferocious kind of nature."

Westbrook's chaotic mastery particularly came to form with the second unit, where Westbrook is slowly starting to get his timing down with his new teammates. For a while, it seemed Westbrook was moving a rate that was almost too fast for Rockets players who were used to the deliberate pace they played at last year. After a few games under their belt, their timing with Westbrook is slowly starting to come around.

"You don't average a triple double for no reason," said D'Antoni. D'Antoni believes Westbrook will feast off of opposing second units or tired first units with the way Houston staggers him with Harden.

"When you play fast, guys are going to be open at some point in time," said guard Eric Gordon. "Any defense is not going to be able to stop all of it. He's a threat by himself and whenever he's playing fast, he creates for everybody else."

It's a change of pace, but the Rockets view it as a welcome change of pace. D'Antoni particularly, has always wanted to play fast. Last season was a delineation from his core values, but believed it was the best way to go about things with the personal the Rockets had to work with. This year, he's getting back to those core values and he seems more enthusiastic about the possibilities with this newly-framed roster.

"It's important for who we are," said D'Antoni. "We were really good with Chris [Paul] and James [Harden] getting to half-court and figuring things out and going a little bit iso, especially the year before. And they were really good at it, so that's how you do it. I didn't think the pace was that important as long as we were efficient. Well, this is a whole different beast. With Russell, if you can play at that pace and that's a natural pace, I like it better. I think it's better for the team. But you don't just do it, it's got to come natural."

Rockets players, now better adjusted to Westbrook, also seem to prefer this pace as they believe it serves their skill sets better.

"I think we've always tried to play a faster play of pace, but his pace is a whole nother level and it helps our team a lot because it draws a lot of attention," said forward P.J. Tucker "Guys really like this way. It equals a lot of open shots on the perimeter and dunks at the rim. So I think it's something we'll continue to get better at, but right now, it was good last night."

It's only one game, but the Rockets closed last night with a pace of 109.8, over 13 possessions per game higher than any of Mike D'Antoni's Phoenix Suns teams (the highest being 2007-08 which was 96.7).

"Six seconds or less, baby," Mike D'Antoni joked as he left the media scrum.

4th and a Mile with Paul Muth

Gyms, Astros, power rankings, and trial by combat

A lot can go wrong here. Photo by Joshua Jordan

So I was at the gym Tuesday. Not bragging.

I've never been a fan of gyms. I like lifting, but I don't like gyms. I don't like the music (even if I actually like the music), I don't like the culture, I don't like vibe. But I also don't own a squat rack, and unless I can guarantee that my landlord won't take away my deposit for doing deadlifts in the kitchen, it's off to the gym I go.

Even if everything is perfectly fine, I unwittingly go out of my way to find things that annoy me every time. I'm constantly looking for more reasons to dislike gyms, like watching the guy with a sleeveless black button down over his red short-sleeved under armour shirt and cargo pants sitting at the lat pulldown machine for 5 minutes having a conversation through his airpods without attempting a single rep.

Now I'm not gym gatekeeping, I'm not qualified to do so even if I wanted to. I'm just grumpy. I want to be alone but I don't have the option so everything bugs me. My big giant over-the-ear headphones should suggest my preference for solitude.

So Tuesday.

I'm over by the dumbells, near a bench. Nothing of mine is on the bench. I AM NOT AFFILIATED WITH THE BENCH.

I'm about to start a set of 15 reps. I tighten my wrist straps. Deep breath. Let's get it.

I'm facing the mirror and I see a guy approaching from behind, eyeballing that stupid bench. He stops at it and begins to stare at me.

I don't like gyms. I close my eyes to focus on finishing my set. That's when I felt him tap my shoulder.

Now this dude isn't part of the "New Year, New Me," crowd. He's this jacked little guy who has obviously spent enough time in a gym to understand that one of the cardinal sins within the Iron Temple is interrupting a set for anything short of life, limb, or loss of eyesight.

As my eyes summoned the power of a thousand suns to glare through his spaghetti strap "Beast Mode" tank top, I ripped my headphones off and whipped around to find out what was so important.

"Are you using this bench?"

I'll let you imagine what happened next, but it wasn't cordial.

I don't like gyms.

To the Astros Apologists

This advice is coming from someone who has gone to at least 30 games a season for the past four years. I've got excel spreadsheets documenting every game. I've traveled across the country for years just to catch Astros away games, and I've got an Orbit tattoo that's hard to show off in the winter. I've lived and breathed this team as long as I can remember. With that said:

Stop.

After reading reddit comments, tweets, Facebook posts, and even a few radio listener call-ins, there seems to be this idea that Astros fans should "accept being a villian," and adopt an "us against the world" mentality.

This chapter in the Astros franchise ended much like Adam Sandler's latest movie, "Uncut Gems." It ends so abruptly, that in the midst of the whiplash you're caught trying to see if there was something that was missed, and if in fact it's actually over.

It's over. The investigation is over. The Astros unequivocally cheated, and when you wake up tomorrow, they will still have cheated regardless of how mad you are about the whole thing. Adopting some "us against the world" mentality says more about your values than it does your fanhood. So let's ease off that approach and find a different way to cope.

Instead, take it on the chin. I'm not saying abandon your team, but just because it's a thing you love doesn't mean you should blindly defend the indefensible. We all knew that one kid growing up who would get into all kinds of trouble, but was never disciplined because his mom believed he was an angel who could do no wrong. Don't be that mom. Own that they messed up, handle it however you want, but don't defend them.

I'm still not sure how to process the whole thing myself. It's like looking back on fond memories with someone after you learned they cheated on you. I don't think it's enough to end the relationship, but I do need some time to step back and reassess.

World Power Rankings of the Week

#5 James Harden's new 'do

I wasn't sure if the braids were hanging around, but our dude is lookin' slick these days and Reddit's r/Rockets is having a mild meltdown over it.

#4 Kendrick Perkins and Kevin Durant's twitter beef

Honestly, all twitter beef is gold, but this week offered some solid haymakers from retired big man Kendrick Perkins, and the NBA all-time record holder for feelings per minute, Kevin Durant. Perk called KD a quitter, KD told Perk he was trash, and down the hill we went. I'm a sucker for NBA drama and it rarely disappoints.

#3 Leonardo DiCaprio, Lifesaver

Imagine having fallen off a cruise liner and treading water for roughly 11 hours. The thought of a rescue would begin to seem dim. Now imagine a glistening yacht arriving out of nowhere and plucking you from your impending watery grave. That's already a pretty awesome way to elude death's icy grip. Finding out who this yacht belonged to must have been pretty sweet as well.

#2 Anything Derrick Henry does in January

Anyone watching the playoffs next to me during any Titans game has since become tired of me reminding everyone that his nickname is "Tractorsito." He's throwing touchdowns, he's stiff arm spinning opponents and pushing them into their own teammates. He's also more than doubling his quarterback's passing yards (160) with his rushing yards (377) throughout the playoffs.

#1 Trial by combat

I'm down for it anytime, anywhere. As a spectator. Especially when you're requesting it from a judge toward your ex and her attorney during a custody battle so that you can "rend their souls" from their bodies. Not sure I'd want that on record, but ok.



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