Houston Harmony

Joel Blank: Let’s hear it for the band!

The Rockets' supporting cast should not be overlooked. Houston Rockets/Facebook

The Rockets beat the Boston Celtics on Saturday night for their 15th consecutive win. This is the second time this season they have had a winning streak of 14 games or more, and are just one win shy of tying the longest streak in the NBA this year. For the average fan following this team, it would be easy to give all the credit to Chris Paul and James Harden. But if you take the time to delve a little deeper, you will find that the supporting cast has been a huge part of the team's success throughout the season and the current streak. When you get to this point in the season and have the best record in the league, you are definitely getting contributions from different players, but this team is getting them from just about everyone up and down the roster. This Rockets team is on pace to have the best regular-season record in franchise history. Let's look at the last 15 games and the key contributors not named Harden or Paul. 

The first five games featured big road wins against the Spurs and Cavaliers, along with wins over teams they should beat like Phoenix, Brooklyn, and Orlando. The common denominator in most of these wins was the contributions of Gerald Green off the bench. The Houston native has brought new meaning to the phrase "right off the street" since Daryl Morey brought him to the team. He literally was on the street, in the driveway shooting hoops with his dog, all while tending to his son who lives in Boston. Then suddenly everything changed, as the phone rang, the tryout went well, the contract was signed and the rest is history. He averaged 13.4 points over the first 5 wins of the streak. 

In games 6 through 10, Green was still a factor, but others contributed as well. Clint Capela had a 25-rebound, 23-point explosion at home against the Nuggets, while Ryan Anderson broke out of a long shooting slump with 21 against the Timberwolves. Green led the bench contribution with 12 points in the win at Miami as well as a dozen at home against Dallas. The Sacramento game was a true team effort as Capella had another double-double and Luke Mbah a Moute and PJ Tucker had 11 and 10 respectively. This handful of games featured 2 blowouts and 3 grind it out victories, but overall more team basketball on both ends of the floor. Granted the games were against lesser opponents, with the exception of the Timberwolves but they were solid wins nonetheless. 

In the last 5 games, the competition got better and so did the supporting cast. Capela had 25 points and 11 boards against the Wolves in an 18-point win, while Trevor put up 14 and 6 in a road W against the Nuggets.  Luke Mbah a Moute was a catalyst on the road in Salt Lake City, scoring 15 of his 17 points in the 4th quarter to lift the Rockets to their 13th straight win in a traditionally tough place for them to play. When you factor in this was a back-to-back that involved two of the most difficult travel cities in the league and included fatigue, altitude, lack of sleep and the quality of opponents, this may have been the most successful 2 game road stretch of the season. The bench did an admirable job on the 3 game road swing, as they were forced to fill in for Gordon, Capella, Anderson, and Brandon Wright who were all out during the trip. In the last two victories against the Clippers in Los Angeles and at home against the Celtics, Eric Gordon was back to his normal self as he poured in 22 off the bench against the Clips and a game-high 29 against Boston. I would be remiss if I didn't also include Trevor Ariza's performance against the "C's," as he was huge with 21 points and key defensive stops, steals and hustle plays all over the floor late in the game to seal the victory.

As you can see, it is a true team effort this year with the Rockets roster and consistent contributions of anyone who has their number called by Mike D'Antoni. Of course Chris Paul and James Harden have been fantastic all season. That's what superstars are supposed to do and how they are supposed to lead on a championship-caliber team. The difference between being a playoff team and a title contender can be found in the contributions of the supporting cast and the key roles that they play. It is safe to say that H-Town has as deep and talented a cast of characters that contribute as any team in the NBA. After all, Michael was the main superstar, but the rest of The Jackson 5 more than carried their weight as they held down the #1 spot on the charts. This Rockets rotation may not be The Jackson 5, but they darn sure have made sweet music as they have racked up wins and helped the Beard and CP3 guide this team to the top spot in the NBA. So let's hear it for the band as they mesmerize and harmonize in pursuit of records, titles and a gold trophy.

 

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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF O'BRIEN'S COACHING

Not my job: Texans no match for the Ravens

Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

The Texans fell to the Ravens 33-16 in a game they had a shot at winning. Most of you reading this will probably think I'm crazy for saying that. I assure you, I meant what I said. One of the reasons they didn't was because Bill O'Brien made a few questionable decisions that cost this team.

The first was the 4th & 1 decision. Deciding to go for it was bad enough. They were down 3-0 near the end of the first quarter with the ball on their own 34-yard line. This is not a situation that calls for a gamble or statement play. The play call itself was okay I guess: a play action bootleg with two short options. It was read and played perfectly by the Ravens defense. Deshaun Watson had nowhere to go with the ball and had to throw it at Darren Fells' back before getting sacked. That led to a quick Ravens touchdown and an early 10-0 deficit. I seriously think he has PTSD after that playoff loss to the Chiefs when it comes to fourth down calls. Bumbling Bill strikes again!

When they got the ball back, they scored a touchdown thanks to more play action passes and pre-snap motion. It was as if Bumbling Bill realized his offensive line was outmatched by the front seven they're opposing. Sure Watson is mobile and looks like a magician escaping sacks, but misdirection helps throw the defense off and keeps Watson from breaking into 177,000,000 pieces. Oh, and the quick reads were a good idea as well. Too bad Bumbling Bill went away from that and opted for longer developing routes. Or will he blame it on Timid Tim Kelly? Or was Waiting Watson holding onto the ball too long? I blame all three.

Also, can we stop starting drives with the predictable run, run, pass combo please? First down should be play action rollout with Watson having the ability to choose to run if it's there. More run/pass/option plays need to be called as well. Incorporate more things that we saw when Watson was on his way to winning rookie of the year before his knee was sacrificed for the Astros.

Credit where it's due: the end of the first half to get a field goal with a minute and change left was good to see. Typically, these situations tend to make Bumbling Bill come out. I liked the quick slant to Cobb with no timeouts. They were able to spike the ball and get the field goal up.

The game was still within reach at 23-13 in the beginning of the fourth quarter. On a 4th & 1, they gave up a 30 yard touchdown run on a direct snap to Mark Ingram. I saw gaps on both sides of the defensive line pre-snap. Sure enough, Ingram got a lead block from the Ravens human plough of a fullback and that effectively put the nail in the coffin at 30-13. I know the tendency is to quarterback sneak or run up the middle, but don't leave gaps along the defensive line trying to stack the middle. First time defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver will take the L on this one.

Overall, I'll give O'Brien and his coaching staff a C- this game. Mistakes were made that could've cost them a legit shot at winning, but the Keke Coutee fumble return for a touchdown wasn't their fault. The play calling menu was brought to us this week by Craft Pita via the "What's Eric Eating" podcast. Tune in next week for another "Not my job!"

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