THE ROCKETS REPORT

Resurgent Rockets roll through week with 3 impressive wins

James Harden (left) and Clint Capela had good weeks. Tim Warner/Getty Images

The Rockets headed into a difficult week five with a head of steam amid off court distractions involving forward Carmelo Anthony. Houston dominated all three matchups emphatically, winning by double digits in each. The Rockets are now 8-7 after starting the season 1-5. They are currently fourth in the Southwest Division and tenth in the Western Conference.

Game 13: Rockets @ Denver Nuggets (W, 109-99)

After crushing the Pacers two days prior, the Rockets traveled to Denver to take on a suddenly beatable Nuggets team anchored by stud center Nikola Jokic, and upstart guards Gary Harris and Jamal Murray. To this point, Houston was either getting blown out or blowing out opposing teams practically all season, which made this one of the most exciting games of the season. The Rockets and Nuggets traded blows all four quarters, with neither allowing the other to pull away until the very end. James Harden would turn on the jets late in the fourth, however, and after 18 lead changes Harden’s surge would push Houston ahead for good. Complimented by a surprising 16-point outing from James Ennis, Houston’s big three finished the night each having scored 20 or more points, with Harden, Chris Paul, and Clint Capela scoring 22, 21, and 24 respectively.

Game fourteen: Rockets vs Golden State Warriors (W, 107-86)

Houston was back at the Toyota Center Thursday night to face off against the defending champion Golden State Warriors for the first time since being eliminated by them in game seven of last season’s Western Conference Finals. The Warriors took the court minus all-world point guard Stephen Curry, and his shooting prowess was sorely missed. The Rockets played angry all night and by the end of the first quarter they had seized a lead that they would never relinquish. Golden State was cold all night from 3-point range, going 4-of-18, and Houston capitalized on the missed shots on the opposite end. The Rockets lead ballooned to 32 at one point in the fourth before the dogs were called off and the bench was sent in. Harden led the team with 27 points, while an Eric Gordon sighting was spotted chipping in a promising 17 off the bench. James Ennis added 19 as well.

Game 15: Rockets vs Sacramento Kings (W, 132-112)

It’s important to be said that these aren’t the the bad Kings anymore. There is a very realistic chance that this Kings team could finally challenge for a playoff spot this season, which is something they haven’t done in 12 seasons. That being said, it is very difficult to take on a Rockets team fresh off of a rout against the defending champs. The headlining narrative was how the young Kings’ league-leading pace of play would fare against Houston’s more methodical, pound the ball approach. Houston’s style would prevail and after leading 71-59 at the half, Houston would run away with another victory. Harden dominated with 34 points and 8 assists, followed by Paul’s 24 points and 9 assists. Capela was unstoppable as well with 23 points, 4 blocks, and 16 rebounds.

Looking ahead

After a tough week against playoff caliber competition, the Rockets schedule smooths out considerably with two games against the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday and Friday, followed by a Saturday matchup against the Cleveland Cavaliers. After sweeping the Nuggets, Warriors, and Kings in the same week as convincingly as they did, I do not envision the Rockets struggling against the 7-6 Pistons or 2-12 Cavaliers. I could see another sweep this week, with the possibility of dropping one against the Pistons.

 

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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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