Rockets clinch best record, but are not playing well

James Harden was sharp against lowly Phoenix. Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The Rockets continued to add achievements to their already historic season this past week by not only clinching the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference for the first time in franchise history, but also clinching home court advantage throughout the playoffs. The Rockets faced one of their easier weeks of competition, and after effortlessly handling the Bulls on Tuesday, Houston struggled against an abysmal Phoenix team Friday before being blown out Sunday versus the San Antonio Spurs. The Rockets are guaranteed the best record in the league, but their performance in the past two games is cause for concern as the playoffs loom ahead.

Game 75: Houston vs Chicago Bulls (W, 118-86)

James Harden rested Tuesday, as the Rockets took on a team so bad that the NBA commissioner warned them against what is perceived by most as tanking. The Bulls looked just as outmatched on the court as they did on paper, and by midway through the third quarter, the Rockets lead was an overwhelming 40 points. Eric Gordon led the team with 31 points and a career-high 8 three-pointers on the way to the Rockets’ tenth straight victory. Trevor Ariza followed with 21 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 steals.

Game 76: Houston vs Phoenix Suns (W, 104-103)

Friday night’s matchup against Phoenix should have been as easy of a victory as Tuesday’s considering that the Suns own the worst record in the NBA. I was actually regretting going to the game over watching the Astros’ second game of the season, and when the Suns’ lead reached 21 points I felt validated, albeit for the opposite reason I had anticipated. Chris Paul and Eric Gordon both sat, and the Rockets played sloppy and uninspired until halfway through the third when the rally began. Houston would trim the lead down to 11 heading into the fourth quarter, where Harden would do what Harden has done plenty of times before this season. Harden would spearhead a furious comeback culminated by a game-tying stepback 3-pointer with 12 seconds left. Phoenix would respond and bury a two-point mid range shot with 1.4 seconds left, prompting a Houston timeout. It seemed everyone in the building expected the inbounds pass to end up in the hands of Harden, but it was native Houstonian Gerald Green--who had made his first start as a Rocket that night--that freed himself up. The immediate catch and shoot was buried right in front of the Houston bench and Green was mobbed. Harden finished with 28 points, 8 rebounds, and 10 assists. P.J. Tucker buried 5 three-pointers on the way to an 18-point performance. The win was Houston’s 11th straight.

Game 77: Houston at San Antonio (L, 100-83)

Houston has handled San Antonio easily all season, so Sunday’s matchup seemed to provide as little intrigue as the other two games earlier in the week. Instead of cruising to a season sweep, however, Houston was dismantled and the Spurs held the Rockets to a season-low 83 points. The Rockets went 7-31 from three-point range as a team, and after Houston trimmed the lead down to 1 late in the first half, San Antonio regained its composure and pulled away to an easy victory. Harden finished with 25 points and 8 assists, while Gordon added 18 points.

Looking Ahead

The Rockets will need to shake off a disappointing week and regroup quickly, as this final full week of games features a full slate of playoff bound competition. Tuesday Houston will take on the Wizards at home, followed by a Thursday home game versus Portland and a Saturday contest against Oklahoma City. Houston will need to forego resting its starters this week if they’re to regain their rhythm heading into the postseason. It’s difficult to optimistically predict anything this upcoming week with the way the Rockets are currently performing, but if they return to form I expect wins against the Wizards and the Thunder at the very least.

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Not my job: Texans no match for the Ravens

Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

The Texans fell to the Ravens 33-16 in a game they had a shot at winning. Most of you reading this will probably think I'm crazy for saying that. I assure you, I meant what I said. One of the reasons they didn't was because Bill O'Brien made a few questionable decisions that cost this team.

The first was the 4th & 1 decision. Deciding to go for it was bad enough. They were down 3-0 near the end of the first quarter with the ball on their own 34-yard line. This is not a situation that calls for a gamble or statement play. The play call itself was okay I guess: a play action bootleg with two short options. It was read and played perfectly by the Ravens defense. Deshaun Watson had nowhere to go with the ball and had to throw it at Darren Fells' back before getting sacked. That led to a quick Ravens touchdown and an early 10-0 deficit. I seriously think he has PTSD after that playoff loss to the Chiefs when it comes to fourth down calls. Bumbling Bill strikes again!

When they got the ball back, they scored a touchdown thanks to more play action passes and pre-snap motion. It was as if Bumbling Bill realized his offensive line was outmatched by the front seven they're opposing. Sure Watson is mobile and looks like a magician escaping sacks, but misdirection helps throw the defense off and keeps Watson from breaking into 177,000,000 pieces. Oh, and the quick reads were a good idea as well. Too bad Bumbling Bill went away from that and opted for longer developing routes. Or will he blame it on Timid Tim Kelly? Or was Waiting Watson holding onto the ball too long? I blame all three.

Also, can we stop starting drives with the predictable run, run, pass combo please? First down should be play action rollout with Watson having the ability to choose to run if it's there. More run/pass/option plays need to be called as well. Incorporate more things that we saw when Watson was on his way to winning rookie of the year before his knee was sacrificed for the Astros.

Credit where it's due: the end of the first half to get a field goal with a minute and change left was good to see. Typically, these situations tend to make Bumbling Bill come out. I liked the quick slant to Cobb with no timeouts. They were able to spike the ball and get the field goal up.

The game was still within reach at 23-13 in the beginning of the fourth quarter. On a 4th & 1, they gave up a 30 yard touchdown run on a direct snap to Mark Ingram. I saw gaps on both sides of the defensive line pre-snap. Sure enough, Ingram got a lead block from the Ravens human plough of a fullback and that effectively put the nail in the coffin at 30-13. I know the tendency is to quarterback sneak or run up the middle, but don't leave gaps along the defensive line trying to stack the middle. First time defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver will take the L on this one.

Overall, I'll give O'Brien and his coaching staff a C- this game. Mistakes were made that could've cost them a legit shot at winning, but the Keke Coutee fumble return for a touchdown wasn't their fault. The play calling menu was brought to us this week by Craft Pita via the "What's Eric Eating" podcast. Tune in next week for another "Not my job!"

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