THE ROCKETS REPORT

Rockets bounce back with 3-0 week; tougher tests ahead

Tarik Black and the Rockets went 3-0 last week. Rockets.com

Last week the Rockets made progress toward shaking off the biggest slump of the season by sweeping all three opponents by double-digit margins. The team did so without James Harden and Luc Mbah a Moute once again, both of whom are on track to return to the lineup at some point this week.

The Rockets record now stands at 30-11 which, as Charlie Palillo mentioned, is a historic pace. No team in franchise history has eclipsed the 60-win mark, including the two championship seasons. Despite this, Houston remains three and a half games back from the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference standings.

Game 39: Rockets at Chicago Bulls (W, 116-107)

Monday’s game against Chicago proved once again that when the Rockets’ three-point shot is on, they’re an incredibly difficult team to beat. Trevor Ariza buried 6 threes and Eric Gordon and Gerald Green each hit four to help the Houston pull out of a two-game losing streak. Gordon and Chris Paul led the team with 24 points each, and Green added 22 off the bench. Clint Capela added 16 rebounds

Game 40: Rockets 121, Portland Trail Blazers 112

The Rockets returned home on Wednesday for a tough test against a perennially pesky Trail Blazers team led by point guard Damian Lillard. Houston knew it would need to lean on their stars to negotiate a victory, and it was Paul and Gordon who answered the call. A back-and-forth first quarter gave way to a less than comfortable lead that the Rockets would fail to surrender for the rest of the game. Paul would finish with a season-high 37 points and 11 assists. Gordon added 5 three pointers on the way to a 30 point outing, his third 30-plus point performance of the season.

Game 41: Rockets at Phoenix Suns (W, 112-95)

There was little doubt that the Rockets would struggle in the desert, and proof can be seen when Ryan Anderson dunks on you. After a sluggish first quarter, Houston’s motor turned on and the Suns were left in the dust as the Rockets cruised to their third straight victory. Paul led the steamrolling with 25 points, and Anderson and Ariza added 18 each. Clint Capela added 17 points and 16 rebounds, marking the eighth game this season with 15 or more rebounds.

Takeaways:

  • Picking up the slack: With Harden falling to injury at the end of December, it was apparent that someone would need to shoulder the load, and most assumed it would be Chris Paul to do so. Paul has responded, and in the six games played without Harden his stats can prove it:

Paul in December: 21 ppg, 8 apg, 5.6 rpg

Paul since Harden injury: 23 ppg, 10.2 apg, 7.3 rpg

  • Thin up front: Backup center Nene current injury and Capela’s recent one have highlighted quite possibly the achilles heel of the Rockets: They are painfully thin in the front court. Nene and Capela are essentially the only two real rim protectors Houston has, and when one of them goes down, that leaves a hole in the rotation for teams to attack the paint much more effectively. While the Rockets are still a very tough team, It may be worth keeping an eye on whether a move is made to bring in a bargain-value big man as the trade deadline approaches.

Looking Ahead:

This week looks to be one of the more difficult weeks Houston has had this season, which is why they will be thrilled at the very timely scheduled returns of both Mbah a Moute and Harden. The Rockets will play one more game out west against the Clippers tonight before they return home for a Thursday matchup against the Minnesota Timberwolves and a Saturday rubber match against the Golden State Warriors. The Clippers upset the Rockets in their last meeting, but I don’t see Chris Paul allowing his old team to steal another. Thursday will be a tough test as Houston will get its first shot at a quietly formidable Timberwolves team that’s currently ranked 4th in the conference. Saturday will be the third matchup between Houston and Golden State, a matchup that looks to pit both teams together with fully healed rosters. It will take another near-perfect performance to take down the champs and a win would be a huge momentum swing. By next Sunday I expect the Rockets to go 2-1 at best, with a loss against Minnesota, Golden State, or both.




 

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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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