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Joel Blank: Rockets need to find a sense of urgency fast

Chris Paul has played well since a disaster of a Game 1, but the Rockets need more. Bob Levey/Getty Images

It's time to wake up and smell the urgency Rockets fans.

Houston, it's time to face the reality that your team hasn't been playing good basketball. The Rockets have been on cruise control for the entire month of April and have yet to realize this is crunch time in the NBA. Ever since this team wrapped up the best record in the NBA, they have been lacking offensive efficiency, defensive tenacity and complete team chemistry. For a team that has been clicking on all cylinders for most of the regular season and only had lows from injuries to key players, this has become a huge issue. Something that was initially being brushed aside as a sidebar to resting players late in the year has now come full circle. It started with resting players that were healthy, and has continued to the point where it's not rust anymore, it's more of a relaxed attitude and lack of a sense of urgency that is a must when you get to the postseason.

Let's not forget that Game 1 of their opening round playoff series against Minnesota was tight for most of the game and Houston was lucky to come out with a victory. Sure they got a blowout win in game 2, but Game 3 was more of the same, sloppy, inconsistent play for Houston. They very easily could be down 2 games to 1,  instead of being up a game heading into Game 4.

When you look around the playoff landscape and you see the teams that are having success right now, it's obvious that chemistry and teamwork are of the utmost importance.  The Indiana Pacers play team basketball on both ends of the floor. Aside from Victor Oladipo, most casual basketball fans would be hard pressed to name another Pacers player. The New Orleans Pelicans are getting maximum effort and production from their star player Anthony Davis, but Jrue Holiday and the rest of the team have stepped up in a big way as they upset Portland in the opening round.  Teams like Utah, Philly, and Golden State are playing defense at a very high level and that leads to continuity and fast breaks on the offensive end. Houston needs to find that balance between success for their superstars and contributions from their role players, as well as getting back to the team defense that propelled them to the top of the NBA this season.

In Game 1, Chris Paul struggled and in Game 2 James Harden’s jumper was missing in action. In Game 3, Harden and Paul did their thing but didn’t get nearly enough help to compete with the energy and emotions of Minnesota. Aside from one big half from Clint Capela and one game from Gerald Green, the role players for the Rockets have been inconsistent and in some cases inexcusable.  Eric Gordon has taken last year's 6th man of the year award and turned it into being consistently inconsistent all regular season. In the playoffs and on this team, he is arguably the third most important offensive player on this roster and in this opening round series he has been anything but that.

It's time to step up as a team, and shape up from and execution standpoint. There is so much talent on this team that they can get by in this opening round series with inconsistent play, but as they get deeper into the playoffs they are setting themselves up for a big fall if they don't improve in all aspects of the game. They are lucky to have a one game lead in this opening round series and have plenty of time to right the ship, but in short the time is now and they need to find a sense of urgency before it's too late.

It wasn't pretty, but it wasn't ugly either. That just seems par for the course whenever the Rockets play the Pelicans. Regardless of injuries on either side, these two teams just always manage to play each other competitively, whistle to whistle. Houston pulled out ahead tonight, but it wasn't without a fight.

Jrue Holiday and Josh Hart in particular, did an excellent job defending James Harden tonight, forcing him to shoot 3 for 11 from deep. The Pelicans often swarmed Harden and forced him to give up the basketball. It helps the Eric Gordon is starting to find a rhythm from three-point range (4 of 7 tonight and 3 of 7 Saturday against Chicago). Westbrook was also forceful offensively to help pick up for Harden's early struggles.

Clint Capela has really stepped it up for Houston these past four games (11 points, 20 rebounds, and 2 blocks tonight on 5 of 6 shooting). Capela has managed to grab 13 or more rebounds in Houston's last four outings. Capela had struggled greatly to start the season, forcing head coach Mike D'Antoni to rely on smaller units with P.J. Tucker at center. However, the Rockets aren't going to go as far as they want in the postseason if they aren't getting a strong 30 minutes a game from Clint Capela, so it's encouraging that he's starting to play well.

The Rockets took a 7-point lead after a surge from Westbrook to end the first quarter and for the most part, held that lead for the duration of the game. New Orleans made a strong push in the fourth quarter the battle back, but at that point it was too little too late.

Star of the game: James Harden didn't have a the best three-point shooting game, but still managed to log 39 point, 9 assists, 4 rebounds, 2 steals, and 1 block in the process on 62.6% true shooting. He was effect at driving to the rim, drawing fouls, getting floaters, and finding shooters. Harden scored 19 of his points in the 4th quarter, effectively dragging Houston to victory despite a strong late push by New Orleans that cut the lead from 17 at one point down to as low as 6.

Honorable mention: Russell Westbrook was dialed in from the first quarter, particularly from mid-range where he scored 12 of his points on 6 of 8 shooting. In a night where Harden was really struggling to gain a rhythm, Westbrook really helped pick up the slack for Houston especially in the units without Harden. Westbrook finished the game with 26 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 4 steals on an efficient 57.1% true shooting. It's unlikely Westbrook will shoot that well from mid-range this season, but on nights where he's on like this, the Rockets will gladly take it.

Key moment: Russell Westbrook's stretch to end the first quarter gave the Rockets a 7-point lead and the Pelicans were never able to capture the lead from that point forward. Westbrook scored or assisted on the final 6 points of the quarter (within 56.8 seconds) and was forceful defensively.

Up next: The Rockets return to Houston to play the Los Angeles Clippers at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday.

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