Every-Thing Sports

Jermaine Every: James Harden is your NBA MVP

James Harden is the NBA MVP. Tim Warner/Getty Images

The Rockets’ season didn’t end the way they had hoped. General manager Daryl Morey had gone on record saying they were “obsessed” with beating the Warriors. They reached the Western Conference Finals against their arch nemesis and took a 3-2 lead. At the end of Game 5, however, Chris Paul’s hamstring gave out. The injury prevented him from finishing the game and kept him out of Games 6 and 7.

Some fans, and pundits alike, considered their season a failure. The “Elimination James” crowd was loud and clear in voicing their displeasure. I had gone on record saying the season was a failure because they didn’t beat the Warriors, which was their stated purpose. I believe they would’ve beaten the Cavs or Celtics in the NBA Finals, but it was the Warriors that posed the greatest test.

There was a time when Craig Shelton and I used to do Hustletown Sports on ESPN 97.5. When we did that show, one of his main points about the Rockets not being able to win was the fact that he believed Harden doesn’t possess “championship DNA.” That is a term encompassing mental toughness, the clutch gene, and killer instinct amongst other things. Craig coining this term actually went back to our previous stint at another station back in 2015. I was slow to jump on that bandwagon, but didn’t hesitate after his 13 turnover performance against the Warriors that same year. I always wanted to believe in Harden and that he’d help bring a title back to Houston. But that thought seemed more and more fleeting as the years went by.

Enter Chris Paul. Paul was traded for after he opted into the final year of his contract. The Clippers had become a toxic situation. Paul wanted out, and the Rockets needed more star power if they were to topple the league’s bully. I doubted that the Harden/Paul tandem would work. After all, Harden had become the point guard for the team, and Paul has established himself as a surefire Hall Of Famer at the position. Mike D’Antoni would have a job on his hands.

Low and behold, they won a franchise record 65 games, and now Harden has been named league MVP. I won’t bore you with his stats, but here’s a link if you need a refresher. This season was truly remarkable. Harden managed to play with Paul and killed the notion they couldn’t play together. With that, Harden also shook the stigma of not being able to play alongside other stars. People thought the Rockets would be “their” team, but Harden made it clear it’s “his” team. Paul is the Robin and Alfred to Harden’s Batman.

I’m happy for Harden, as should everyone who considers themselves a Rockets fan. Sure they fell short of the ultimate mark, but the ride was fun. It’s like riding in a limo to a dentist appointment. Sure you’re going to get teeth pulled, but the ride there was nice right? This only adds to Harden’s legacy. He will be a Hall Of Famer when his career is said and done, barring catastrophic injury. This was another notch in the belt, another stop on the highway to basketball immortality. In the MVP race he’s been a groomsmen, now he’s finally the groom. Let’s hope the next notch on his belt is hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy.

 

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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.

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