NBA REWIND

Paul's return to lineup helps Rockets to solid week

James Harden (left) welcomed Chris Paul back to the lineup. Rockets.com

I was a patron of Toyota Center twice this past week. One of the trips was a relatively new experience, while the other is a frequent occurrence. One of the trips was awesome, while the other was awful. One of the trips was the Rockets game versus Toronto, and the other was WWE’s NXT: Takeover. I'll let you figure out which was which.

I'm going to be honest with you. If you haven't ever tied one on at what is basically a minor league wrestling event, you should fix that.

Saturday night my buddies and I were ringside for the mayhem, and I made it a point all night to be as loud as humanly possible. Amongst our group was a wrestling diehard. This was minor league wrestling and he knew everyone.

Since I neither knew any of these wrestlers nor expected to maintain a vested interested, I decided that before every match I would ask my buddy who he was rooting for, and then root for that wrestler’s opponent. I thought at the time that this made me clever. Luckily he got the joke.

Apparently Saturday evening's main event was a match referred to as “Wargames,” which inexplicably involved two rings, a steel cage, three smaller cages at the top of the entrance ramp, wooden tables, folding chairs, metal trash cans, and nine wrestlers forming three man teams. I barely understood what was happening, but it was amazing. Those guys beat the snot out of each other.

Speaking of beatdowns…

This past week the Rockets were the recipients of one, and the donors of two, as they finished the week with a 13-4 record overall. Houston is currently tied for first place in the Western Conference, and second in the league.

Game Fifteen: Rockets vs Toronto Raptors (L, 113-129)

Tuesday was, as they say, “one of those games.” The Raptors shot 52% as a team, and had essentially put the game away with a 45 point second quarter. Eric Gordon was virtually non-existent, going 3-12 from the field for 12 points in 33 minutes. James Harden produced an odd stat line, going 8-25 from the field, but 19-19 from the line. He finished with 38 points and 11 assists. Trevor Ariza chipped in his first 20 point game of the season.

Game Sixteen: Rockets at Phoenix Suns (W, 142-116)

Chris Paul returned to action Thursday versus the Suns and contributed a double-double (11 points, 10 assists in 21 minutes) in a blowout victory. The Rockets piled on 90 points by halftime, and seven players finished with double digits in the scoring column. Harden’s performance was brutally efficient, going 12-22 from the field, 18-18 from the line, and 6-11 from beyond the arc. Harden finished with 48 points and 7 assists. Ryan Anderson drained 6 three-pointers as well, finishing with 24 points.

Game Seventeen: Rockets at Memphis Grizzlies (W, 105-83)

In the fourth and final regular season matchup between the Rockets and Grizzlies, Houston proved superior and evened the series 2-2 with a convincing 22-point victory. Two days after scoring a season high in points, the Rockets flipped the script and held the Grizzlies to a season low 83 points. Chris Paul poured in 17 in his second game back and Clint Capela tallied his 11th double double with 17 points and 13 rebounds. Harden continued his blistering 2017-2018 campaign with a 29 point, 7 assist, and 5 rebound performance. Harden currently leads the league in both points and assists.

Takeaways:

  • So much for Chris Paul coming back rusty. While he’s returned with a minutes restriction, he’s still managed to average 14 points and 8 assists on 9-18 from the field in two games.

  • Ryan Anderson is the fuse that ignites Rockets blowouts. In games where Anderson scores more than 20 points, the Rockets are 3-1, and the average margin of victory is a an absurd 21.3 points.

  • After shooting lights out for the past two weeks, Eric Gordon finally returned to Earth and did so with a thud. In the past three games, Gordon is 16.7% (4-24) from three-point range, including an 0-7 effort in Tuesday’s loss to the Raptors.

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

Chris Paul, of course! It’s great just to see Paul back on the court, and the idea that he may be rusty is very promising considering how well the offense has operated since his return.

Looking Ahead:

The Rockets play twice this upcoming week, with home contests versus the Nuggets and Knicks. The Nuggets operate with a strong frontcourt combination of Nikola Jokic and Paul Millsap, something that seems to be the only semblance of a weakness for the Rockets at the moment. Jokic leads the Nuggets in scoring, averaging 16.2 points per game. That’s certainly not a lot, but it’s enough when six other teammates average 12 or more points per game in addition. Saturday’s matchup will be the second meeting between the Rockets and the Knicks. The Knicks have scrapped together a surprisingly decent start to the season, largely behind the efforts of “The Unicorn,” Kristaps Porzingis. Porzingis is averaging 27.8 points per game and the haul of players New York received in the Carmelo Anthony trade have been solid contributors so far. The Rockets easily dispatched the Knicks in their first meeting, and I see no evidence to suggest that the Knicks will even the season series this weekend. Assuming the Rockets can successfully neutralize the Nugget’s front court, I expect an undefeated short week of basketball heading into Cyber Monday.

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Many of the games have been hard to watch. Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

They say that breaking up is hard to do, then comes the rebuilding, and that's where the real pain happens. Last week, the 4-9 Rockets lost a tough game, 103-91, to the very average San Antonio Spurs at Toyota Center. That night, Ben McLemore scored 21 points, while P.J. Tucker contributed four points.

Every other point for the Rockets was scored by a player who wasn't on the team last year. That's no way to build a fan base of young people, or older people, or anybody. Because of COVID restrictions, the Rockets can sell only 3,000 tickets to games, and they're still having to offer special deals like four tickets and four drinks (soda, water, wine or beer) for $79.

The night the Rockets fell to the Spurs, DeMarcus Cousins was out with an ankle injury (surprise), John Wall was out with a sore knee (shock), and Eric Gordon sat with a lower leg injury (stunning). They were not sidelined by COVID protocol, it was age creakiness. All three are on the other side of 30. All have a history of missing games because of injuries. Danuel House also missed the game because of a bad back and COVID protocol.

The Rockets took to the floor with able-bodied Mason Jones, David Nwaba, Rodions Kurucs, Kenyon Martin Jr., Jae'Sean Tate and Christian Wood. They're nice players, for sure, they're on an NBA roster. But the NBA is a megastar-driven operation. How many of them would you recognize if they were standing behind you at Costco? The way the Rockets sign, trade and cut players, many or most of the current roster won't be around next year. Becoming a fan of a current Rocket is like falling in love with the Rug Doctor you rented for the weekend at a supermarket. It's going back Monday.

Last year, the head coach was Mike D'Antoni, the general manager was Daryl Morey. Both are established and respected figures in the league. Would you recognize the Rockets new coach Stephen Silas? Can you even name the Rockets new general manager?

And that's how you sink to 14th place in the Western Conference standings, inevitably a lottery team, the end to the Rockets' eight-year run of making the playoffs … the longest current streak in the NBA. The 2021 Rockets aren't just a lousy product, it's worse, they're a boring team. Gordon and Tucker, maybe the two most popular Rockets veterans, are rumored to be traded soon. Fans will have abandonment issues.

Maybe the Rockets should offer something stiffer than beer on "Guys Night Out" next Thursday when the Portland Trail Blazers visit Toyota Center. Good seats available.

That's not what you want to see

Did you see where the New York Mets fired their general manager Jared Porter because he sent explicit, uninvited, unanswered text messages to a female reporter?. Porter absolutely deserved to lose his job. What he did was awful and cruel. More than just losing his job, he should be committed to a home for the terminally stupid. Who does something that moronic? So unconscionable and abusive, on top of being job-killing.

But not all junk shots are meant to be hurtful – here's one that's actually funny, and totally inadvertent and innocent. Several years ago, a local sportscaster not only took a photo of his naked, anatomically correct body, he posted it on Facebook for all of his friends, indeed the world, to see. I won't name the local sportscaster because he was the victim of his own innocent lack of focus. It could have happened to anybody. Not me, thankfully, but anybody else.

Here's how it happened. The sportscaster was taking a shower, and when he emerged, he noticed his kitten curled up in the bathroom sink. Aw, isn't that cute? The sportscaster grabbed his phone and took a photo.

And posted it on Facebook. He didn't notice that, in the background of the photo, in the mirror, was his naked body. You can't say he was butt naked because it was full frontal nudity. You can't say it was a wardrobe malfunction because there was no wardrobe involved. Fortunately his wife noticed the mishap and told the sportscaster to delete the photo.

Here's the real problem, and his solid alibi. Whoever thought it was a good idea to put huge, wide mirrors in the bathroom, especially opposite the bath tub? There's a good look, you're naked, dripping wet, with patches of soap you missed rinsing off. This should be a fleeting disturbing image, not one to be preserved on film or online. Solution: don't bring your phone, or any photographic equipment, into the bathroom. We've all taken accidental photos. Nobody needs to see a photo of your disgusting body. You are not Michelangelo's statue of David. I don't let my dog watch me take a shower or any other business conducted in the bathroom. There is a reason that bathroom doors have locks. Use them.

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