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.

Things are not going well, even when Paul and Harden are both healthy. Tim Warren/Getty Images

Sometimes sports do a great job of making people look silly. Take, for example, last week when I predicted that the Rockets would go undefeated this week. With a slate of just near .500 or below teams, a fully healthy Rockets squad, and a group that had just recently embarrassed San Antonio and Chicago, it seemed like a safe call. What I've learned from the past three games, however, is that there is nothing predictable about this Houston Rockets team, as constructed.

Instead of a sweep, the Rockets were swept.

Tuesday night the Rockets were completely dismantled by the Minnesota Timberwolves. Leading 62-48 at the half, Houston imploded and followed with a 29-55 second half. James Harden would lead the Rockets as usual with 29 points, but beyond himself and Capela's 24 points, there was zero support as the next highest scorer was Eric Gordon with 10. The loss dropped Houston to 11-12 for the season.

Thursday gave the Rockets yet another opportunity to climb back to .500 against an equally underperforming Utah Jazz team. It looked as though fortune was swinging Houston's way when Utah's defensive anchor, Rudy Gobert, earned an early ejection, but instead it seemed that the send off galvanized Utah fans and Jazz alike. The result was a very thorough dusting of the Rockets, behind a 24 point, 10 rebound performance from Derrick Favors. Houston saw five separate players in double digits, but none higher than Harden's 15. Houston shot 8-36 from 3-point range as they fell to 11-13 on the season.

Saturday the Rockets traveled to Dallas for a quick rematch following last week's blowout defeat. It looked like Houston would finally be off the schneid until the dad-bod himself, Luka Doncic fired off 11 straight points to leapfrog the Rockets late in the fourth. Doncic would finish with 21 points against the Rockets. Harden would once again lead Houston in scoring with 35 points and 8 assists. Chris Paul followed with 23 points and 8 assists. Their third straight loss would drop the Rockets to 11-14. After 25 regular season games, Houston is now 14th out of 15 Western Conference teams.

Short on Excuses

Until now, there's been an easily explainable reason behind Houston's slow start. At first it was a matter of missing either Harden or Paul. Then it was a matter of health. Then their defense. And then their poor shooting.

The issue now is that every one of those excuses is null. The team is as healthy as it's been this season. Rockets' defensive guru Jeff Bzdelik has returned to the sideline. Houston's offense remains rated one of the best in the league prior to this week.

There comes a point in the season where, despite the team's potential, you have to begin to judge a team based off of their record. And at this point in the season, Houston just doesn't look good.

Looking ahead

Houston had their chance to notch a few victories and they squandered it. Now they get to face the meat of the conference, with matchups against the Trail Blazers Tuesday, the Lakers Thursday, and Memphis Saturday. What you have there is competition against the 5th, 6th, and 7th seeds, which doesn't bode well after being stomped by the 11th and 13th seeds just this past week. Nothing about the Rockets makes sense anymore and until there's any semblance of inspired play, I don't expect Houston to win any of these contests.



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