NBA REWIND

Rockets keep on rolling, extend win streak to 7 games

James Harden and the Rockets continue to soar. Rockets.com

Week seven of the NBA season saw the Rockets up to their usual steamrolling tactics, overwhelming teams from three and playing great defense. There was little drama to be had this week as the Rockets made easy work out of a relatively soft week of games. The Rockets remain first in the conference, with a one game lead on Golden State. San Antonio trails the Rockets in the division by 3.5 games.

Game 20: Rockets vs Brooklyn Nets (W, 117-103)

James Harden went for the throat early, going 5-5 from three on the way to a 20-point first quarter. Those 20 points were part of a 43-26 first quarter, which ultimately proved insurmountable to the Nets. Chris Paul added a season high 14 assists and Clint Capela contributed his third 20-point effort of the season. Harden would finish with 37 points, 10 rebounds and 8 assists.

Game 21: Rockets vs Indiana Pacers (W, 118-97)

Watching from the stands, a friend leaned over with a concerned look on their face as the Pacers closed out the first quarter with the lead.

“Don’t worry,” is all I replied.

A close first half concluded with a slight Rockets lead. That lead would explode late in the third, concluding in what has become a typical Rockets blowout. All of the Rockets’ starters registered double digit points, while Harden flirted with yet another triple double (29 points, 8 rebounds, 10 assists). Capela added 22, marking his first consecutive 20-point outings of the season to go with 13 rebounds and two blocks.

Game 22: Rockets at Los Angeles Lakers (W, 118-95)

Late Sunday night the Rockets matched up with the Lakers for the first time this season and emerged from the Staples Center with their seventh straight victory. Offense was at a premium, as Harden, Paul and Eric Gordon would ultimately be the only three Rockets players who would score in double digits. Each was highly effective, however, scoring 36, 21, and 22 respectively. With the help of Kentavious Caldwell Pope and Brook Lopez, the Lakers pulled to within 3 halfway through the 3rd. A P.J. Tucker 3-pointer on the other side seemingly ended the Lakers’ run and the Rockets’ lead would balloon from there. Lakers point guard Lonzo Ball would finish the game 0-4 with 2 points, 3 assists, and 1 rebound.

Takeaways:

  • After helping Harden shoulder most of the scoring load, Gordon’s production has dropped off considerably, averaging only 12.7 points per game in his last 7 games. It could be a result of Paul’s return to the roster, or that less playing time with Harden has resulted in having to create more of his own shot.

  • So much for home court advantage: The Rockets are now 10-1 on the road, having won the last six consecutive road games by 15 or more points.

  • It seems like every week it’s either Eric Gordon or Clint Capela playing the glue guy. With Gordon slumping, Capela has shouldered the load this past week, averaging 16.7 points and 10.7 rebounds.

Looking Ahead:

This week the Rockets have a light workload, with a Thursday game at Utah and Saturday at Portland. Thursday will be the second time the Rockets have faced the Jazz, the first time being a matchup that involved Harden scoring a career-high 56 points. Saturday will be the first matchup between the Rockets and Trailblazers. The Trailblazers are 13-10 at the moment and are second in the league in rebounding. It’s hard at this point to look at a team with 10 or more losses as a team that could pose a challenge, however Blazer’s point guard Damian Lilliard is really difficult to sleep on. In a fairly soft point of the schedule, Portland should pose the toughest test of the past three weeks. I see the Rockets taking at least one of the two, extending their win streak to at least eight, and facing a tough test in Portland.

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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