WEEK IN REVIEW

Rockets keep rolling along with three more wins

Eric Gordon continues to fill in well for the injured Chris Paul. NBA photos

Last week I had an epiphany. I was at the bar eating lunch and watching the Texans attempt to emulate a football team. I was discussing just how wretched the game was with my buddy, when it hit me:

I don't have to watch this. I should stop watching this.

And we did. I finished lunch and we immediately closed out toward the beginning of the third quarter.

Weekend 1 of no NFL has been nice. Freeing, even. Now that I no longer feel obligated to watch nine hours of football, I've been able to do other things like, oh I don't know, write about the Rockets.

And that's a way better topic because the Rockets are absolutely crushing teams right now. They have one of the best records in the league and James Harden looks like the early frontrunner for a player of the month award.

Add their success to my lingering World Series buzz and the impressive playoff run the Dynamo are stringing together, and it's easy to understand why it feels good to be a sports fan in Houston right now.

That is, unless you only watch the Texans. If that describes you, well, stay strong I guess. I'll be sure to keep you updated on my awesome Texans free Sundays from here on out.

Game Twelve: Rockets vs Cleveland Cavaliers (W, 117-113)

Thursday’s matchup between two of the biggest stars in the league certainly lived up to its nationally televised billing. Any team with LeBron James on it is going to be tough to put away, and this meeting was proof. The Rockets jumped out to an 11 point lead after James took a seat, and ballooned up to 15 behind a few consecutive deep Eric Gordon 3 pointers. James immediately returned, and by the end of the half the Cavs had tied the game behind the efforts of James himself and a surprising performance from journeyman Jeff Green. The Rockets received key contributions to close out the game from Clint Capela (19 points, 13 rebounds) and P.J. Tucker. Harden finished with a triple-double (35 points, 11 rebounds, 13 assists) and Gordon chipped in 20 point as well.

Game Thirteen: Rockets vs Memphis Grizzlies (W, 111-96)

Looking to avenge their 0-2 start vs the Grizzlies, the Rockets jumped out to a quick 9-0 lead and never trailed Saturday night. It was all Rockets, who dominated both sides of the ball on the way to tallying 14 steals on defense while finally crossing the 100-point mark against a team that has posed an early season challenge for them. Harden posted his fouthth 30-point game (38 points) in his last five outings, and Gordon went 6-11 from beyond the arc on the way to a 26 point outing.

Game Fourteen: Rockets at Indianapolis Pacers (W, 118-95)

Sunday evening the Rockets traveled up to Indianapolis and steamrolled the Pacers for their sixth straight win. Ignited by Harden’s career high nine assists in the first quarter, the Rockets never trailed for the second game in a row. Harden would finish with 26 points and 15 assists. Gordon chipped in 21 points and Clint Capela continued his great start to the season by adding 20 points and 17 rebounds.

Takeaways:

  • Clint Capela is operating on a completely different level this season. He’s fourth in the league in rebounds, third in blocks, and first in field goal percentage. He’s also firing 70% from the charity stripe, up from 50% last season.

  • Harden is currently leading the league in points, assists, and free throw attempts. Granted it’s way too early to speculate, but at the moment Harden looks like he’s going to be staging another strong campaign for league MVP.

  • They’re playing angry. Following the Rockets’ last loss, they’ve blown out almost every team during their current six game win streak by an average point differential of 17.6 points per game.

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

Eric Gordon. He’s certainly picking up the slack in Chris Paul’s absence and has posted four straight 20-point games, all while shooting 43% from beyond the arc.

Looking Ahead:

This week the Rockets will get their first looks at Toronto and Phoenix this season before taking on, you guessed it, Memphis yet again. Toronto has looked good to start the season, so this could be a good test at home for the Rockets. Phoenix is terrible, so a win should be expected there. Finally, on Saturday the Rockets will look to even the season series with the Grizzlies, who lead it 2-1. I expect no more than one loss this upcoming week.

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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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