Every-Thing Sports

Jermaine Every: The Rockets could actually do this

James Harden actually has help this season. Rockets.com

The Houston Rockets are currently two games in front of the Golden State Warriors for the number one seed in the Western Conference. They also hold the tiebreaker should the two teams end up with the same record. But do people really believe they can win an NBA title?

To do so, they’d have to get passed the Warriors. The Warriors have one of the most loaded rosters in NBA history. They won an NBA record 73 games before they added Kevin Durant. After Durant joined their team, they won another title. The Rockets, on the other hand, lost in the Western Conference Finals the year the Warriors won 73 games and failed miserably last year in the second round of the playoffs versus the San Antonio Spurs.

One of the things that makes this year different is the Rockets’ ability to play defense and have other guys score When James Harden or Chris Paul can’t get it going. No longer is Trevor Ariza the sole defensive stalwart on the team. Luc Mbah A Moute and P.J. Tucker provide the team with other “3 and D” guys, besides Ariza, who can defend multiple positions and hit the three. Eric Gordon has stepped up to the plate as the Vinnie “Microwave” Johnson of this team. He can light it up off the bench at any given moment and has improved his defense. Clint Capela has made leaps and bounds as not only a defender, but also as a pick and roll threat.

Another difference in this year versus previous years is the fact that the Spurs, notorious thorn in the Rockets’ side, are more vulnerable this year. Their best player, Kwahi Leonard, has been hurt most of the year. Their second best player, Lamarcus Aldridge, recently went down with an injury and hasn’t played well when he and Leonard are sharing the floor. They are still a dangerous team if both guys are healthy, but that hasn’t come to fruition this season.

Perhaps the best reason for the Rockets’ increased chances of a title run this season, is the fact that the guys surrounding Harden are leaders. Paul and Tucker are widely recognized as more vocal vets in the huddle and/or locker room. Ariza is a no-nonsense guy, but I think he wasn’t able to reign in the locker room as quickly as he’d like. By Harden being surrounded by so many guys that take the game so serious, it seems as if it’s rubbing off on him this season. Having another playmaker/ball handler like Paul eases the tension and load on Harden’s shoulders.

I personally believe this version of the Rockets is more well-equipped to make a run at a title than previous versions of this team with Harden at the helm. There are other teams that factor into the West being won than the Warriors. The Minnesota Timberwolves are a young and upcoming team that can be taken serious as a possible threat. Harden is in such a zone, it would be hard to envision him faltering in the playoffs this season. Paul hasn’t achieved the successes that other guys have, but it’s debatable as to why. Without a clear cut third superstar, Capela isn’t there yet, this team lacks the ammunition previous teams’ have had. Now he has guys he can trust to make plays and distribute. This Rockets team deserves our undivided attention and support. It’s high time we come together as a city and support them the way they’re playing their butts off.

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Hiring DeMeco Ryans would be a good first step. Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images.

The Cincinnati Bengals are heading to its second straight AFC Championship game. After making the Super Bowl in 2022, it’s hard to believe the team is just four seasons removed from being in the bottom of the NFL with a 2-14 record.

The Houston Texans find themselves in a similar position to the Bengals a few years ago. Houston is in a transition stage following the loss of quarterback Deshaun Watson, JJ Watt and the flurry of other talent that defined the Bill O’Brien-led era.

The Texans are currently near the bottom of the league, but here is why they could be not that far off when it comes to turning the corner as the Bengals did over the last few seasons.

In 2019, Cincinnati was still led by Andy Dalton at quarterback. It was the first year under head coach Zac Taylor and the team had a lot of holes to fill.

After finishing with the worst record in the league, the Bengals drafted Joe Burrow with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 draft. They used their second pick in that same draft to take a key playmaker in receiver Tee Higgins and used the third pick in linebacker Logan Wilson, who has started in every game he has played in for the Bengals this season.

In the 2020 season, Burrow showed flashes of being a star QB, but suffered a season-ending knee injury that once again saw Cincinnati picking toward the top of the draft. In 2021, it used the No. 5 overall pick to draft Ja'Marr Chase.

With the key pieces in place added on to other hits they made in free agency and in previous years’ drafts, such as selecting Joe Mixon in 2017 and signing former Houston defensive lineman D.J. Reader, the Bengals quickly became one of the top teams in the league, and Burrow has become the only quarterback not named Tom Brady to have a leg up on Patrick Mahomes.

While it is much easier said than done, the Texans are in position to do just as the Bengals did beginning in 2019. Houston has an abundance of draft capital, even more than Cincinnati had when it went through its rebuild, including six in the first two rounds of the draft for 2023 and 2024.

It will be on Nick Caserio to put together the best roster with those picks to put the Texans back into relevance, and it begins with the hiring of the head coach. Could DeMeco Ryans be the answer in Houston?

The Bengals were patient with Taylor after two seasons of just two and four wins. Whoever Houston hires this go around will need to have stability. Taylor has proven he was the right man for the job even after the shaky start.

The next two drafts will define what the next decade looks like for the Houston Texans. They are at a crossroads when it comes to which direction they will take. Even at its best over the last decade, Houston’s ceiling was the Divisional Round of the AFC playoffs.

Choosing the right quarterback and surrounding him with elite talent on both sides of the ball will be key. No pressure Caserio.

If he plays his cards right, it just might be the Texans competing against Burrow and the Bengals or Mahomes and the Chiefs on Championship Sunday in 2025.

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