Rockets on record pace at the All-Star break

Chris Paul has been a big addition.

The Rockets notched two more convincing wins against the Timberwolves and Kings, thereby extending their latest winning streak to 10 as they headed into the all-star break. In doing so, they also climbed ahead of Golden State by half a game and now once again own the best record in the league. With the All-Star game acting as a natural pause point for everyone to play catch up now that football season is over, let’s take a moment to examine the season so far.

At 44-13 the Rockets have the best record after 57 games in franchise history. James Harden’s jaw-dropping season has all but sealed his MVP recognition later this summer. Chris Paul’s integration to the team has been nothing short of flawless and integral. Clint Capela’s continued development has proven to be ahead of schedule.

Eric Gordon has been lights out, both on and off the bench as Houston weathered multiple injuries. P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute have transformed the Rockets bench from a defensive liability full of young players the year before to a defensive-minded, hungry group of veterans ready to scrap it out with literally anyone.

The Rockets have gone on winning streaks of 6, 14, and (currently) 10, with 25 games to go. They currently rank second in points per game, and twelfth in points allowed. That’s right, the Houston Rockets are playing some of their best defense since Jeff Van Gundy was roaming the side of the court. Their newfound defensive prowess has come from a much improved emphasis on defensive switches during half-court sets.

In the midst of all of this, three of the Rockets’ starters have missed significant time to injuries, and the result has had little effect on the court. Chris Paul has missed 18 games, while James Harden has missed seven and Trevor Ariza has missed 13. The age-old “next man up,” mentality has been employed all season to great success.

Much of that success can be attributed to Eric Gordon’s stellar play, but I would be remiss if I failed to mention the ingenious acquisition of Gerald Green. Signed in late December to fill in due to injuries, local product Green hit the court and seamlessly jelled with Coach Mike D’Antoni’s system. Consider it a savvy move anytime you sign a guy off the streets that goes on to average 13 points per game and 39% from three-point range off the bench.

The Rockets are undefeated at this point against every other team in Texas. Let that sink in. Not only are the beating them, but they’re also doing it by an average of 10 points per game against both teams. Against all currently playoff eligible western conference teams, the Rockets are 12-2.

The point of all this is that the Houston Rockets are playing some of the best basketball Houston has ever seen. And yet, it all accounts for nothing currently because of the elephant in the room:

The Golden State Warriors.

Houston won the regular season series 2-1 against the champs, and just last week wrested the top seed in the conference from their grasp. Rockets general manager Daryl Morey has specifically tailored this team’s personnel to counter everything that the Warriors do, and in so doing created a team that has proven that it can legitimately contend with every other team in the league as a result.

Even with the league’s best record, Morey continued to make moves by signing recently bought out players Brandan Wright and longtime Hawks star Joe Johnson. While Johnson is the better known name, I expect Wright--an athletic center who can swat shots--to be the more impactful signing. The Rockets only real achilles heel rested in the health of Capela, and Morey just brought in a poor man’s version with fresh legs.

But regular season wins and playoff wins are two different things. It would be a foolish to assume that the Warriors won’t switch into a completely different gear when the playoffs begin.

The difference between this season and seasons past is that it’s no longer James Harden shouldering the load by himself and switching into that gear. Not only that, but the addition of Paul has allowed Harden to rest more which should theoretically prevent another recurrence of the flare out that was witnessed during the San Antonio series last season.

I’ve watched all 57 games so far and I can tell you with confidence that yes, a healthy Houston squad has a legitimate shot against the  Warriors. With 25 games left in the season, it will be interesting to see just how strong Houston finishes. The Rockets have never posted a 60-win season. With the firepower Houston’s working with now, it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility.


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Watson's accusers appeared on Real Sports on Tuesday night. Photo by Nick Cammett/Getty Images.

HBO Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel’s heavily promoted and much anticipated examination of Deshaun Watson’s legal mess involving alleged sexual misconduct shed little new light and merely presented a summary of well worn he said/she (x22) said accusations and denials.

The episode debuted Tuesday night on the premium cable service and will be repeated dozens of times throughout the week on HBO’s platforms. Check your local listings for times and channel.

The segment was hosted by Soledad O’Brien who presented compelling face-to-face interviews with two of the quarterback’s accusers: massage therapists Ashley Solis and Kyla Hayes. Their stories were detailed and graphic. Both cried during the interviews.

Solis: “As I’m working, he deliberately grabs himself and put his penis on my hand. I pulled my hand away instantly and I started crying. I told that I’m done. I don’t want to do this anymore.”

Solis said she felt threatened when Watson, before leaving the session, allegedly told her: “I know you have a career to protect, and I know that you don’t want anyone messing with it, just like I don’t want anyone messing with mine.”

Solis added, “That’s when I got really scared because that sounded like a threat to me.”

Hayes: “He wanted me to kind of make a V motion in his pelvic area. I just kept massaging and did what he asked, until his penis kept touching me repeatedly as I did it.”

Hayes said that Watson had an orgasm, which she said was “mortifying, embarrassing and disgusting.”

O’Brien asked Hayes why she continued to have contact via email with Watson after their encounter.

Hayes: "I wasn't sure what he was capable of. He could've physically assaulted me. He could've bashed my business, so I had to protect myself and my business the best way I saw fit. Did I ever see him again after that? No. Did I give him the runaround? Yes."

O’Brien pointed out that two separate grand juries in Texas heard criminal accusations against Watson and neither found enough evidence to indict him.

Solis and Hayes, and 20 other massage therapists have filed civil suits against Watson. The cases aren’t expected to reach a courtroom until next March. Both sides could reach a settlement before then which would effectively shut down any legal action against Watson. However, both sides say they aren’t interested in any pretrial settlements. That’s what they say now, anyway.

After being banished to the sidelines for the 2021 season by the Houston Texans, Watson signed a historic, 5-year fully guaranteed $230 million contract with the Cleveland Browns.

Hayes said she feels Watson “is being rewarded for bad behavior." Solis said, "It's just like a big screw you. That's what it feels like. That we (the Browns) don't care. He can run and throw, and that's what we care about.”

Watson currently is participating in preseason workouts with the Browns and, at the moment, is cleared to play the upcoming NFL season.

That is unless the NFL suspends Watson for some, most or all of the 2022 season. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has said the league is nearing completion of its independent investigation into Watson’s case and will reach a decision “shortly,” probably this summer. The NFL and NFL Players Association mutually agreed to have former U.S. District Judge Sue Robinson decide whether or not Watson violated the league’s Personal Conduct Policy and what discipline should be handed down if he did.

The Browns are scheduled to play the Texans on Dec. 4 at NRG Stadium in Houston.

O’Brien said, while producing the Real Sports piece, she tried to interview Watson, his attorneys and the Cleveland Browns for their side of the story. All declined.

During a press conference in March to announce his joining the Browns, Watson denied any inappropriate behavior with the massage therapists.

Watson: “I never assaulted any woman. I’ve never disrespected any woman. I was raised to be genuine and respect everyone around me. I’ve never done the thing that these people are alleging. My mom and my aunties didn’t raise me that way.”

Leah Graham, a member of Watson’s legal team, sat for an interview after O’Brien’s segment was complete.

Graham: "It's 22 women. It's one lawyer. There's only one lawyer who was willing to take these cases. And as we know from Ashley Solis’ deposition, Mr. (Houston attorney Tony) Buzbee was not the first, probably not the second or third lawyer she went to, but he was the only one to take her case. Why? Not because it had merit, but because he would use these cases to increase his social media following and quite frankly to get on shows like this one.”

My reaction after watching the Real Sports segment? We weren’t in the room when the massage therapists worked on Watson. We weren’t in the grand jury room when evidence against Watson was presented. We don’t know what happened. We don’t know what will happen if these cases go to trial.

Until then all we have is one big, lurid, embarrassing mess. In American courtrooms, defendants are presumed innocent. That’s often the opposite in the court of public opinion. We’ll just have to wait while the wheels of justice grind painfully slow.

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