NBA WEEKLY RECAP

A look back and a look ahead with the Rockets

The weekly look at James Harden and the Rockets. Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

With everything going on with the World Series, I’ll be the first to admit that the Rockets have taken a bit of a backseat at the moment. Just about every game I’ve caught has been thanks to game replays from my NBA League Pass. This Astros run has consumed me. Work? Distraction. School? Distraction. Friends that don’t watch baseball? Distractions. I’ve invested far too much into this baseball season to be sidetracked by anything else now.

This month of intense, high-pressure baseball has left me physically and mentally broken. I never could have predicted how much of a toll the stress of a championship run this tight would have taken on me. I love baseball, but it’s killing me. I’m ready to focus on some stress free Rockets action.

I did promise Rockets updates though. I said we’d get through this together, and I’m a man of my word.

Game Four: Rockets vs Memphis Grizzlies (L, 90-98)

As soon as I suggest that the Rockets could go undefeated for a week, they lose the very next game. Of Course. In one of the rare Rockets games that didn’t cross the 100-point threshold, James Harden and company seemed in control throughout. Marc Gasol was nearly unguardable throughout the first quarter, even with the stockier Nene brought in to slow him down. Both teams beat each other up inside with very little resistance, with Harden and Eric Gordon leading the charge. The Rockets built up a lead as high as 12 points in the third, however Memphis stormed back and grabbed the lead with three minutes left to go in the fourth. Trevor Ariza and Nene each left the game with injuries, and the Rockets dropped their first game of the season to the notoriously defensive-oriented Grizzlies. Harden finished with 22 points and 8 assists, while Gordon lead the charge with 27 points and 7 assists.

Game Five: Rockets at Philadelphia 76ers (W, 105-104)

With Ariza out due to a left knee sprain, Luc Mbah A Moute was given his first shot in the Rockets starting rotation. The 76ers jumped out to an early lead with the help of their two prized players, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. First impressions? Those kids are good, and play well together. The Rockets simply do not match up well with Embiid, who bullied Tarik Black all night to the tune of 21 points, 2 blocks, 1 steal, and 6 rebounds. It was a close game throughout. Clint Capela turned in another outstanding night on the boards with 20 rebounds, and the Rockets would cap a spectacular fourth quarter rally with a last second buzzer-beater from Eric Gordon. He would finish with 29 points. Harden ended the night with 27 points and 13 assists.

Game Six: Rockets at Charlotte Hornets (W, 109-93)

Fueled by a 29-16 second quarter, a 31-19 fourth, and Harden’s first triple-double of the season (27 points, 10 rebounds, and 11 assists), the Rockets left Charlotte with a victory Friday night. It was moonshots all night, as Gordon and Ryan Anderson alone combined for 31 of the team’s 57 three point attempts. Ariza and Nene sat out once again. Gordon and Anderson finished with 26 and 21 points, respectively.

Game Seven: Rockets at Memphis Grizzlies (L, 89-103)

In a less than encouraging second round against a divisional opponent, the Rockets turned in a dud. Gordon sat out with a stomach illness Saturday night and the Grizzlies cruised to a win, fueled by former Rocket Chandler Parsons and his 24 point showcase. Ryan Anderson lead the team with 22 points on a great shooting night for him, however the lack of scoring support outside of Harden proved to be too much. After Harden’s 20 points, the Rockets’ next highest contributor was Capela with 12. None of the Grizzlies’ starters scored in double digits, but the bench shouldered the load with the help of Mario Chalmers (15 points) and Tyreke Evans (14 points).

Game Eight: Rockets vs Philadelphia 76ers (L, 107-115)

In another quick rematch, the Rockets took on the 76ers for the second time in less than a week. The original matchup required a Gordon buzzer-beater to steal a win, but this time the Philly’s young duo would not be denied. Embiid dominated once again inside with 22 points, while Ben Simmons poured it on with an unexpected mid-range shot. He would finish with a career high 24 points to go with 9 assists and 7 rebounds. Gordon and Harden shouldered as much of the load as possible, shooting a combined 16-39 from three point range, finishing up with 25 and 29 points each.

Takeaways:

  • Harden and Gordon need help. Together, they are accounting for almost 50% of the team’s points each night. When Gordon was out against Memphis, the Rockets suffered their biggest defeat of the young season. A healthy Chris Paul will be a welcome addition.

  • Capela has been dominating the boards so far. At 11.3 rebounds per game, Capela is tied for 10th in the entire league as a glass cleaner. He’s also averaging 13.5 points per game with a 72.3% field goal percentage.

  • As productive as Capela has been, the Rockets seem to have the most issues with teams that have dominant post players. Nene was tagged as a priority to resign in the offseason to help push back against the bruisers. Tarik Black was picked up as insurance in case Nene was injured. All three centers have shown an inability to contain the likes of Embiid and Gasol.

Rockets Player of the Week (not named James Harden):

Eric Gordon. Week one was a miserable 3 point showing, but he’s since raised his 3P% from 20% to 30%. He’s the only other reliable scoring threat on the team at the moment that can create his own shot, and he’s made it a point to be more aggressive at driving the lane. Until Paul returns, the Rockets are going to continue to lean on Gordon as a starter.

Looking Ahead:

Wednesday the Rockets take on the Knicks in New York, followed by the Hawks at Atlanta and a home tilt against the Jazz later this week. The Rockets will have to figure out how to stop Kristaps Porzingis if they’re to avoid a similar fate dealt by Memphis and Philly’s big men. Atlanta should be an easy win, before taking on the Jazz on Sunday. This past week has been a stumble, but I see the Rockets taking at least 2 of the next three games and heading into next week at 7-4.

 

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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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