THE ROCKETS REPORT

Rockets go 1-2 to fall back to .500 mark at 9-9

James Harden and the Rockets went 1-2 last week. Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

After pulling off an improbable sweep the week before, the Rockets struggled to distance themselves from the .500 mark they had recently positioned themselves around. Houston was able to take the first of a one and one against the Pistons early in the week, but the Pistons would even the season series on Friday in overtime. The Cleveland Cavaliers would deny Houston the opportunity to shrug off the loss and would go on to hand the Rockets their second straight defeat in as many days. Houston is now 9-9, fourth in the Southwest Division, and 11th in the Western Conference.

Game 16: Houston vs Detroit Pistons (W, 126-124)

In a game between two evenly matched teams with similar records, the product on the court certainly delivered. After a closely contested first half, Houston seized control through much of the second half. Pistons Forward Blake Griffin was disinterested in the Rockets 14-point lead late in the fourth and with the help of his five 3-pointers with less than five minutes left in regulation, Detroit found themselves within four points. Harden would take control and ice the game however, finishing the night with a season-high 43 points, 9 assists, and 4 steals. Clint Capela finished with 27 points, 15 rebounds, and 4 blocks.

Game 17: Houston at Detroit Pistons (L, 116-111/OT)

Black Friday found the Rockets taking on the Pistons for a second consecutive game, albeit as visitors this time. This time around, the Pistons were in complete control until a third quarter Houston run seized the lead back. Both teams would trade blows and the score was tied at the end of four. Detroit would pull away in overtime, however, snapping Houston’s five game winning streak. Harden led the effort with 33 points and 8 assists, while Capela turned in an even more monstrous performance from the night before with 29 points, 21 rebounds, and 3 blocks.

Game 18: Houston at Cleveland Cavaliers (L, 117-108)

Chris Paul sat out Saturday night as the Rockets played the Cavaliers in the second part of a back to back where Cleveland controlled the game almost the entire night. Cavs rookie guard Collin Sexton traded highlight reel finishes with Harden as he led Cleveland with 29 points. Harden - forced to shoulder more of the offensive load with Paul out - poured in 40 points and 13 assists while playing the entire second half.

Looking Ahead:

The Rockets have a busy week starting Monday in D.C. against the Wizards. Houston will return home for a Wednesday match against Dallas before heading down I-10 for a Friday game against the Spurs and a Saturday tilt at home with the Bulls. All of these teams this week are very beatable with a healthy Rockets team. I predict a 3-1 week to put some space between the Rockets and their current .500 mark.

 

Deshaun Watson takes his act to New York. Tim Warner/Getty Images

The Texans Saturday play a lousy 4-9 Jets team Saturday now without its leading rusher (Isaiah Crowell) and leading pass catcher (Quincy Enunwa). Then they face a probably Carson Wentz-less Eagles team seeing its Super Bowl championship defense die away. Then the awful Jaguars come to Houston. 12-4 is right there for the Texans, but that will only be enough for the number three seed in the AFC and a Wild Card weekend home game unless the fading Steelers rise up Sunday to knock off the Patriots. That game is in Pittsburgh. The Patriots' final two games are both at home against the Bills and Jets.

With the Patriots losing their game to the Miami Miracle, on one hand you can say the Texans blew a massive opportunity in losing at home to the Colts. On the other hand the Colts were clearly the better team in ending the Texans' nine game winning streak.

The loss to Indy was a reality check. The Texans are a pretty good team, but glaring areas of weakness keep it from being a reeeeally good team. The offensive line is flat lousy in pass protection, though sometimes Deshaun Watson makes it look even worse by holding on to the ball too long. Pending free agent moves in the offseason, one of the Texans' top two draft picks next spring MUST be spent on an offensive lineman, the other on a cornerback (if not on another o-lineman). Even in their zone-heavy scheme, the Texans lack corners who run well enough. If the pass rush isn't raising hell, the secondary is Swiss cheesy. Remember, the Texans have an extra second pick this spring, acquired from Seattle in last year's Duane Brown trade.

If somehow the Texans chump up two of their remaining three games, as long as one of the losses isn't to the Jaguars they still win the AFC South even if the Titans or Colts win out.

Coogs' house

None of the Phi Slama Jama era Houston Cougar basketball teams started a season better than 5-0. Sunday Kelvin Sampson's Coogs go for a Bo Derek (perfect 10, anybody remember Bo?) start. Only UH team ever to open 10-0: the Elvin Hayes-led '67-'68 squad that went 31-0 and along the way beat UCLA in the Game of the Century before the Bruins obliterated the Cougars at the Final Four.

The new Fertitta Center is a modest-sized gem, and currently offers the hands down best sports environment in town. Non-Cougars are never going to embrace UH in big numbers especially not in a major league sports town, so UH's "For the City" slogan doesn't hit the mark. But so what? Drawing more of the Cougar base, plus any outside of it who might have some interest piqued by intensely played quality college basketball is good enough.

Rockets rumors

The Rockets have been vastly less excitement-inducing this season, though James Harden's closing brilliance in a 50 point explosion Thursday night to put away the Lakers was a doozy. Getting back to and then over ,500 is the Rockets' near term goal. A good month of sustained quality play is needed to restore credibility. Chris Paul's overall level of play remains a serious concern. The rumor this week of their interest in Cleveland malcontent J.R. Smith, egads! That would render Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey Desperate Daryl. Morey is trying to recover from his awful offseason, but I can't believe he sees J.R. Smith as worthwhile.

Speaking of Morey's offseason work, the Rockets Saturday gain the right to trade Carmelo Anthony. What a bonanza must await in return!

Astros still armed

Not a great look for the Astros that they tugged on their purse strings while the Tampa Bay Rays of all teams guaranteed Charlie Morton $30 million dollars over the next two years. The Astros did not err. Morton was on balance outstanding in his two Astro seasons but he wore down badly this year, and at 35 years old his arm is a ticking bomb. The Astros should add an established starting pitcher, but even if Jeff Luhnow doesn't, the Collin McHugh/Brad Peacock/Josh James/Framber Valdez quartet isn't an indefensible plan to cover three rotation spots while waiting on elite prospect Forrest Whitley's arrival during the 2019 season. If poor performance/injuries are issues, nothing precludes a notable in-season trade. That Verlander fellow worked out okay a couple of seasons ago. A left handed hitter is the obvious other logical Astros' target.

Buzzer Beaters

1. Pipe down Tony La Russa. Harold Baines making the Baseball Hall of Fame is ridiculous. 2. La Russa also used to lambaste those who dared to believe that Mark McGwire might have been a steroid guy. 3. Best teams in the AFC: Bronze-Patriots Silver-Chargers Gold-Chiefs (but barely post-loser Kareem Hunt).

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