ROCKETS ON A ROLL

Lance Zierlein: Daryl Morey started it, but I know how to finish it

Daryl Morey has put together a roster that can beat Golden State...If they listen to Lance. Rockets.com

Earlier this year in this very space, I tried to tell you that this Rockets team was a team you could trust. I implored you to look past the playoff failings of the past by James Harden and the rest of the Rockets. I asked that you recognize the roster composition and keep an open mind in analyzing and assessing this Rockets team as a brand new unit…. a unit that is designed to go deeper than any of Daryl Morey’s recent iterations.

Last night, the Rockets proved once again why it’s safe to jump on the bandwagon with a 115-111 win in Portland against a team that previously carried a 13-game win streak until the Rockets sent them and their fans home with sad face emojis on. It’s official. This team is different.

Built to guard

The addition of Chris Paul was obviously important because it spread the “alpha leadership” role from just James Harden to another player who is highly respected and highly competitive in Paul. That’s the obvious observation. However, the most important moves from an Xs and Os standpoint was when Morey added guys like P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute to go with Trevor Ariza as perimeter defenders.

The Golden State Warriors (and actually the Rockets for that matter) love to get teams by creating screen situations where defenders have to switch or fight over screens. When the Warriors are able to create a switch situation, they exploit the matchup with a one-on-one with one of their deadly shooters. In Mbah a Moute, Gerald Green, and Ariza, the Rockets have great length with the ability to switch and defend multiple positions.

In essence, the Rockets can go smaller and they can switch with most of their defenders and this just might be the kryptonite they need, along with an MVP in James Harden, to knock of the Golden State Warriors and grab Houston back-to-back titles in Houston (we are just going to skip over the Texans season if that is OK).

How to close

There are a few steps the Rockets need to follow to make this championship dream a reality. First and foremost, just finish what you started and capture the No. 1 seed throughout the playoffs. The Rockets now have a four-game lead over an injury-riddled Warriors team and that should stand as long as the Rockets don’t completely collapse.

If the Rockets lock up the top seed quickly enough, they can start to manufacture rest for James Harden, Chris Paul, Eric Gordon, and any other Rockets who are fatigued or needing rest. Keeping your core fresh and getting them healthy from any nagging injuries is something that many teams won’t have the luxury of doing.

Play your game for 48 minutes. That’s the final piece of the puzzle for the Rockets. For whatever reason, there is a league-wide habit of defaulting to one-on-one possessions that end in contested, long jump shots when the game gets into the final couple of minutes. Don’t do that, Rockets. Don’t do that, James Harden. You are having tremendous success with how you play basketball for the first 46 minutes so play the same way over the final two.

Daryl Morey has put together a Rockets club that is set to break organizational records and lead the franchise and city into one of the most anticipated postseasons in team history. If they simply follow my “how to close” rules, we’ll be setting up for another parade and tasting the tears of our vanquished opponents.





 

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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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