WEEK IN REVIEW

Rockets recap: Perfect start includes big win over Warriors

James Harden is off to a fast start. Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

You would think that upsetting the reigning NBA champions on their home court en route to an undefeated first week of the season would be a little more attention grabbing here in Houston. 

You would, of course, be wrong. If you’re like the majority of the city, then the Houston Astros have probably kept you spellbound for at least the past week, leaving little room for the Rockets at the moment. If that’s the case, don’t worry. Keep watching the Astros, and I’ll keep you updated on the Rockets. We’ll get through this together.

Game one: Rockets at Golden State Warriors (W, 122-121)

The Rockets opened up the regular season by defeating the Golden State Warriors on opening night, and the big question was how Chris Paul and James Harden would work on the floor together. The short answer is not great at the moment. Paul left the game late in the fourth with a knee injury that looks to keep him sidelined for at least a few weeks, so we’ll have to wait a little longer to answer that question. New free agent acquisitions Luc Mbah a Moute and P.J. Tucker shined off the bench, combining for 34 points and 10 rebounds. Harden finished with 27 points, 6 rebounds, and 10 assists.

Game two: Rockets at Sacramento Kings (W, 105-100)

Part two of the Rockets’ West Coast mini tour sent them to basketball’s elephant graveyard: Sacramento. The Kings’ decided to protect the three3point line and were summarily gutted by Harden and center Clint Capela. Capela finished the game 10-12 from the field with 22 points, 17 rebounds, and 3 steals Harden struggled from the three point range (4 of 14), but ended the night with 27 points, 3 rebounds and 9 assists. As a side note, the Kings’ look like they struck gold with De’Aaron Fox. That is a fast human being with what looked like a Kobe-esque mean streak. He’s not Kobe, I’m not saying that, but the kid plays with intensity.

Game three: Rockets vs Dallas Mavericks (W, 107-91)

Saturday night the Rockets extended their unbeaten start to the season with a convincing home opener win over the Mavericks. In a surprisingly dominant defensive showcase, the Rockets held the Mavs to 20 points or less in each of the first three quarters. Trevor Ariza led the effort with four steals which contributed to a 34 point lead by the start of the fourth quarter. Harden finished his early night with 29 points, 3 rebounds and 7 assists. Dirk Nowitzki was held to just 2 points.

Takeaways:

●Three games into the season and nothing suggests that James Harden has any increased interested in playing defense.

●The Rockets’ sharp shooters haven’t started out very sharp. Ryan Anderson is firing the three at a 31.6% clip, which is outpacing Eric Gordon and his 20% success rate.

●Despite the sluggish start from three, Gordon is picking up right where he left off in terms of the production that led to his 6thman of the year award last season, averaging 22 points per game so far.

Rockets Player of the week (not named James Harden): Clint Capela. After a monster game against Sacramento, Capela has started the season averaging 15.7 points and 10.3 rebounds per game. He’s the prototype center for a team that runs as much as the Rockets do.

Looking Ahead

The Rockets will get two looks at the Memphis Grizzlies along with bouts against the winless 76ers and the 1-1 Hornets. If the Rockets can neutralize Marc Gasol, it’s very possible that the team could be celebrating Halloween unbeaten.

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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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