Rockets roll through another unbeaten week

James Harden led the Rockets to a 4-0 week.

Four games last week, four more wins. The Rockets survived a tough test in Miami, and steamrolled through the other three matchups to extend their most recent winning streak to eight games. In addition, the rich got richer as Houston is expected to sign veteran guard Joe Johnson Monday after clearing waivers.

A recent “slump” by the Golden State Warriors (at least by Golden State’s current standards) has allowed the Rockets to close the gap to with a half game of the League/Conference lead. The Rockets’ division lead is beginning to resemble that of last year’s Astros, as they hold an 8 game lead over the Spurs.

Game 52: Rockets at Brooklyn Nets (W, 123-113)

Tuesday served as part one of back to back games and game three of the Rockets current four-game road trip. Trevor Ariza sat once again as Houston tipped off against the Nets in what looked on paper to be an easy Rockets win. Houston added to their tally as the highest scoring first quarter team in the league with a 38-point effort; however Brooklyn remained close after one quarter with 31 point of their own. Houston would lead throughout the remainder of the half, however - surprisingly enough - Brooklyn’s own three-point barrage would enable them to seize the lead toward the middle of the third.

That was all that James Harden and Chris Paul needed to see.

Behind the two superstars, Houston kicked on the afterburners and left the Nets behind for a double digit victory. In addition to 36 points and 5 assists, Harden also surpassed 15,000 career points that evening. Paul finished with 25 points and 5 assists, while Clint Capela added 18 points, 11 rebounds, and 4 blocks.

Game 53: Rockets at Miami Heat (W, 109-101)

It was “Vice night” in Miami, and the pesky team looked all the part in their fluorescent alternate jerseys. It was also game two of back-to-back games, in which the Rockets made it to their hotel at 3:45 a.m. the night before. If there was ever a game to drop, it would be one with an exhausted team against a staunch defensive squad such as the Heat, all while missing Ryan Anderson, Trevor Ariza and Eric Gordon.

Winning games like these, however, make statements.

Houston once again jumped out to a quick lead with a 35-24 first quarter, and went on to dominate the first half while leading by as much as 17 at one point. The third quarter was shades of the night before, however, as the Heat closed the gap and traded leads with the Rockets. It would be Harden, once again, with some late game heroics -- this time in the form of back to back 3-pointers -- to seal the hard fought victory, complete the road sweep, and extend the Rockets’ current winning streak to six. Harden continued his recent streak of unreal performances, this time to the tune of 41 points, 6 assists, and 3 steals. Paul added 25 points and 7 assists.

Game 54: Rockets vs Denver Nuggets (W, 130-104)

The media tries their best to make every game seem intriguing. As if both teams really do have a chance at winning. Sometimes, however, that’s just not the case. Friday night was one of those times, as the Rockets completely housed the Nuggets behind a career night for Clint Capela.

James Harden produced a quiet team-leading 28 points, 11 assists, and 7 rebounds, while the entire focus centered (pun intended) on Capela, who finished with 23 points and a career high 25 rebounds in three quarters of basketball. Capela became the second youngest Rocket to record a 23 point, 25 rebound game, and I’m sure you can guess who was the youngest (hint: his last name rhymes with...smolajuwon). The Rockets led by as much as 35 at one point, and the entire fourth quarter was essentially a bench showcase.

Game 55: Rockets vs Dallas Mavericks (W, 104-97)

Sunday’s 6 p.m. tip-off was the epitome of a trap-game: playing a sub-par team (with a terrible, terrible alternate jersey) right after an impressive blowout, but just before an important matchup.

It was a lazy, sloppy affair from the Rockets end, and the lack of respect for the Mavericks was apparent throughout. Lazy and sloppy, it turns out, was more than enough for Houston to power past Dallas, and although the final score suggests a close game, it was far from it. The Rockets essentially toyed with them throughout, and finally KO-ed the Mavericks in the fourth. Harden finished with 27 points, 5 assists, and 6 rebounds, and Chris Paul was absolutely disrespectful on his way to 25 points, 9 assists, and 8 rebounds. Capela added 16 points, and 11 rebound as well.

Looking ahead:

This week the Rockets get two looks at the Timberwolves, as well as contests against the Sacramento Kings and Denver Nuggets once again.

Houston handled the Timberwolves in their first meeting with surprising ease, however Minnesota remains the fourth best team in the Western Conference for a reason. I can’t imagine winning both games against their squad this week, however the Kings and Nuggets matchups should be cake walks. I expect at worst a 3-1 week.

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Should Watson be in the MVP conversation? Composite image by Jack Brame.

The 2020 NFL season has a lot going on. Even if we take the coronavirus out of it, there's still a lot to digest. There are so many great performances being put up, one can make an argument for several players to win league MVP. The quarterback position typically gets more credit than others. If I restrict the argument to quarterbacks only, we're looking at Russell Wilson, Patrick Mahomes, and Aaron Rodgers. Dalvin Cook, Alvin Kamara, and Derrick Henry are the leading contenders at running back. On defense, there really isn't a standout defender. The defense gets no love, but there are several guys in the running for NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

Deshaun Watson has been putting up numbers that have matched or rivaled some of the top MVP candidates over his last seven games. That stretch has coincided with the firing of head coach/general manager Bill O'Brien. Coincidence? I think not. Taking the reigns off a wild horse can often lead to said horse running free and flourishing! So question: Should Watson be getting league MVP considerations? I think so.

For starters, he's been one of the best players in the league over the course of the last seven games. 18 passing touchdowns and only two interceptions. The only quarterback with a better touchdown to interception ratio over that same span is Mahomes (19 and 2, as opposed to Watson's 18 & 2). Factoring in total season stats, of course Mahomes is doing much better. He's on a better team with a much better coach and general manager. The same could be said for Wilson and Rodgers. Put Watson on any of those teams and their records wouldn't be any worse than what they are now.

The Texans are 4-3 since firing O'Brien. While that isn't a great record, consider the fact they started the season 0-4 and looked like a total disaster. Watson looked like he was caged and couldn't wait to be freed. The team's record could be even better if the defense had a pulse. The proper supporting cast has a lot to do with a player's MVP candidate's chances. Now that one of his favorite weapons, Will Fuller, and the team's best corner, Bradley Roby, are both suspended for the rest of the season by the league for violating the substance abuse/PED policy, things will get much tougher for Watson.

If he continues to put up these cartoon like numbers, I don't see why he wouldn't be in the MVP conversation. He's currently fopurth in passing yards, sixth in completion percentage, tied for fifth in passing touchdowns, eighth in QBR, and third in quarterback rating. Watson is emerging as the star he was projected to be coming into the 2017 draft. I'm not saying Watson deserves to be the league MVP, but he deserves to be in the conversation. His MVP candidacy should be treated like the family gathering hierarchy: once you reach a certain age and/or status, you're no longer resigned to the kiddie table. Now you get to sit with all the adults, engage in their conversations, and gain access to things you couldn't previously. Watson won't win the MVP award, but I strongly believe he could finish top five. Especially if he keeps making lemonade with the lemons he's been given.

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