POINT BLANK

Joel Blank: Rockets need to pick up the pace, tweak the lineup

Starting Eric Gordon might give the offense a boost. Jonathan Daniel

When the Rockets arrived in Oakland to prepare for Game 3, I’m sure they looked in their rear view mirror and hoped that Game 1 was a thing of the past. Of course, Game 2 had all Rockets fans breathing easy again and thinking their team was primed to take back control of the series. Along comes a clunker in Game 3 and now Red Nation has fans once again on the ledge thinking that their season could be coming to an end.

Regardless of what you want to call it and how many people were quick to defend it, Iso ball works best when you play fast—and the isolation ball handler is the facilitator/scorer.  Way too many times, the shot clock went below five seconds on a given posession and just as in the series opener, the Rockets were forced to have the same guy who was isolating also try and get a shot off before the shot clock expired. The Rockets better sit down and pay careful attention to the game film and prepare for a fast-paced, pedal down, all-out sprint to the finish if they have hopes of winning Game 4, especially in the hostile environment of the Oracle arena.

In case some people haven't noticed, the Golden State Warriors have four All Stars in their starting lineup, three of which are capable of going off for 30 points a game at any time and the fourth capable of a triple double every night. In order for Houston to be able to match the firepower of the Warriors they have got to get contributions from Trevor Ariza, Eric Gordon, PJ Tucker, and Clint Capela. Of course we are not expecting any of those secondary players to go off for 30 points or more, although Gordon is capable. What is expected from at least 2 of those players on any given night is double digit scoring and filling up a few other stat columns in the box score. If the Rockets have any hopes of competing with the Warriors,  they need help from their supporting cast, play at a pace that allows them to get out on the fast break and in transition, and get the reserves involved.

One of the keys to winning in the NBA is getting odd numbered advantages in your favor and capitalizing on them. Transition opportunities like 2 on 1 and 3 on 2 fast breaks, as well as 4 on 3 and 5 on 4 secondary breaks all lead to easy offense and lots of open shots. In creating these situations, you are also getting your secondary players in a rhythm, touching the ball, and easy baskets which builds confidence as well as contributions to the overall production of the team.

When the Rockets play as slow as they did in Game 1 and again in Game 3, it does the exact opposite. It does not allow the supporting cast to get involved offensively, which not only leads to those players being less productive, but it also carries over to the defensive end of the floor where the same players will be less likely to fully engage and give the extra effort this team so sorely needs.

The Warriors outscored the Rockets 23-10 on the break and 56-40 in the paint in game 3. On top of that, the Rockets bench was viewed as an advantage over Golden State in the series with deeper, more talented reserves, yet ther Warriors outscored Houston's reserves by 2 in Game 3. That simply cannot happen again if the Rockets expect to win another game, let alone this series. Especially when all five Golden State starters were in double figures as compared to only three of the five Rockets who opened the game. Houston had only one bench player score 10 or more and that was Eric Gordon, who shot a miserble 4 of 13 from the floor. The bench has to be better, plain and simple and the supporting cast cannot be on the missing persons report for Game 4 if Houston has plans of making this a long series.  

At this point in the series, the adjustments made by the Rockets coaching staff can be summed up best by saying little risk and little reward. After losing Game 3 by 41 points it may be time for desperate measures. By this I mean it may be time to get as much offense as possible in the starting lineup and that would mean sending Clint Capella to the bench.

I realize that Clint has been a valuable cog in the Rockets defense all season, but let's face it, Houston's problems are not on the defensive end as much as they are trying to jump start their stagnant and stalling offense from possession to possession.  Inserting Gordon in to the starting lineup and going small may not match the Warriors' starters point for point, but it could help the team get off to a better start and play at a faster tempo.

With the team only shooting 32% from behind the arc, and Trevor Ariza and P.J. Tucker each only contributing 6 points, Gordon in the starting lineup could go a long way to improving the 3-point shooting and the overall offensive production of the team.  Of course Gordon will have to shoot better and be more consistent, but I think that getting him in a rhythm and in the flow of the game earlier may do just that.  Whether the coaching staff decides to go small or not, let's hope they lock themselves in a film room and make some adjustments that will help this team pick up the pace and play at a speed that gives them a better chance to win. If they don't, its time to grab the tackle box and head for the beach because the Rockets will be fishing before you know it.

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Another tough loss for the Texans. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

The Houston Texans started fast but faltered late as the New York Jets hand Houston their ninth loss of the season 21-14. Here are 11 observations from the game.

1. Starting safety Justin Reid was benched for the game. David Culley said after the game it was his decision as head coach and he would keep the matter internal with Reid.

2. This is the third defender benched for disciplinary reasons this season. Reid joins Zach Cunningham and Desmond King as players who missed time for discipline.

3. Justin Reid told Fox 26 he was benched because he had a disagreement with the coaching staff. He also said he was shocked the Texans benched him. You have to wonder if the “culture” the team is building is right when one of the more likable and personable players falls victim to their rules. Reid, who is a free agent this offseason, could leave the Texans.

4. Tyrod Taylor had a couple of nice plays early on for the Texans. His willingness to take some shots downfield was refreshing and led to a touchdown pass to Brandin Cooks.

5. Rookie tight end Brevin Jordan found the end zone. He has played well in recent weeks after finally getting on the field. Jordan is playing over Jordan Akins as Akins was a healthy scratch again this week.

6. Tytus Howard started at left tackle with mixed results. Howard has struggled to find his way at guard but could be a long-term option at tackle if given the chance.

7. The offensive line overall played poorly after some early success. The pass rush of the Jets got going and the run blocking was poor again. Lane Taylor played at left guard some, with Max Scharping also playing some at that spot.

8. The offense was horrendous after the two scoring drives. The Texans amassed 202 net yards with 91 yards coming on those two scoring drives. Houston gained just 49 net yards after their opening three drives.

9. After the game, I asked David Culley if he would be making a change with his play-caller. Culley stood behind offensive coordinator Tim Kelly and said he would remain the team’s play-caller.

10. Second-year defensive lineman Ross Blacklock had two horrible errors that handed the Jets a chance to turn three points into seven points. Blacklock got a personal foul on a field goal attempt giving the Jets a first down. The very next play his offsides penalty erased a sack. Each week Blacklock falls even more behind a bevy of players drafted after him who contribute positively on a regular basis.

11. The loss to another bottom-dweller has the Texans back in the second spot in the 2022 NFL Draft order. It also feels like the deflating nature of this loss erased some of the good feelings after the victory over the Titans. The Indianapolis Colts come to Houston next week to begin December’s portion of the schedule.

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