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 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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