Rockets Report

Rockets streak reaches 15 while critical matchups lie ahead

Three tough opponents this week could put the win streak in jeopardy. Houston Rockets/Facebook

This past week was full of some great basketball. The Rockets weathered a red-hot Jazz team, exacted revenge on the Clippers (without any post game locker room visits), and finished the week with a come-from-behind statement victory against the Celtics to extend their winning streak to 15. Houston maintains the best record in the NBA, and a half game lead on the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference. 

Game 60: Rockets @ Utah Jazz (W, 96-85)

Monday’s game was the definition of a trap game. It was the second game of back to back away games, with a match up two days ahead that everyone was looking forward to against the Clippers. The Rockets started off sluggish, trailing by as much as 15 in the first half. They would shake off their slow start in the second half and regain the lead late in the third. Fueled by a 15-point fourth quarter from Luc Mbah a Moute, the Rockets would eventually pull away for their 13th straight victory. This was only the 5th time Houston had been held to under 100 points, and are 2-3 in those instances. James Harden led the team with 26 points, and Chris Paul added 15.

Game 61: Rockets at L.A. Clippers (W, 105-92)

It was very apparent that this game had been circled by the Rockets and when the ball was tipped off at Staples Center Wednesday night Houston kicked the doors in with a fury. Now I could talk about Harden’s 17-point first quarter, or discuss the Clippers being outscored 34-14 in the first quarter. I could also touch on Capela’s 22-point, 14-rebound performance being a key contribution to the victory. 

I could, but I won’t. 

While all of those topics are compelling, none of them come close to Harden’s dismemberment of Wesley Johnson on national television:

I was watching at a local bar when Johnson skated his way to the wrong side of history. The crowd watching gave a collective “Oh!” when he dropped, and exploded when the three went in. And while Harden is no stranger to making defenders look outmatched, this play--and the utter disrespect involved with the pause--now rests among the pantheon of other great attitude moments in the NBA. I’d set it right next to Allen Iverson stepping over Tyronn Lue, and Michael Jordan finger-wagging Dikembe Mutumbo.

To dig deeper into this, I decided to take a look at the most disrespectful moments in Rockets history, and here’s a quick top five:

5. Rafer Alston ‘Skips’ on Sasha Vujacic - The former AND1 streetballer decided to dust off some moves while running the clock out and Vujacic was having nothing to do with it.

4. Harden melts Ricky Rubio’s ankles into putty - A more recent one than the others on the list, Harden put Rubio on the deck just last season before nailing a three-pointer

3. Steve Francis with the triple crossover - The only thing better than disrespecting your opponent is to do it two more times before you score.

2. Kiss of Death - Part of Houston sports lore, Mario Elie drops the three-point dagger into the Suns to eliminate them from the Western Conference finals and blows a kiss at the bench. Cold blooded.

1. Harden humiliates Wesley Johnson - as discussed above. The reactions they highlight in this link are priceless.

Harden finished with 25 points.

Game 62: Rockets vs Boston Celtics (W,123-120)

The best record in the NBA clashed with the second best team in the Eastern Conference Saturday night and we were all made better for it. In a game featuring 12 lead changes--none of which surpassing 10 points--it was all but assured that this primetime matchup would not be decided until the very end. With less than two minutes to go in the fourth, Trevor Ariza shifted into a different gear altogether and snatched the lead from the Celtics with a steal and a layup. My awkward response to the action was captured on national TV for all to see, because of course it would be. My friends may or may not have hassled me over that.

The Rockets would hold on to win one of the toughest games of their schedule in the past few weeks. Eric Gordon led the team with 29 points, draining a season high 7 three pointers. Harden added 26, while Ariza chipped in 21 points and Capela grabbed 17 rebounds.

Looking Ahead:

The remaining regular season schedule for the Rockets will be fairly difficult and it starts this week with road matchups against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Milwaukee Bucks (back-to-back), and Toronto Raptors. They finish the week against the tank-job occurring up in Dallas on Sunday before taking on more playoff caliber competition the following week.

The Rockets dropped their first games against OKC and Toronto, and squeaked a victory out against Milwaukee by 4. As much as I’d like to be wrong, the chances of the Houston’s current 15-game winning streak surviving the week look grim. I don’t see Oklahoma City beating a full strength Rockets squad, but a surging Bucks team could pounce on a road weary group and take advantage of the situation. Toronto will be a pivotal matchup as well, since--once again--we could be looking at a potential finals matchup for the second week in a row. The Dallas matchup should be an easy victory, but it’s possible that the Rockets witness their first losing streak since dropping two in a row on January 4th and 6th.

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Composite image by Jack Brame.

There's an elephant in the room when it comes to the Houston Texans. No, it's not Bill O'Brien. He's the ominous black cloud that hoovers over the whole building. That cloud is like a slow moving weather system that's constantly dumping rain and flooding the city. Eventually, it'll pass, we'll rebuild and recover from it.

It's not even the McNair family. Cal and Janice are the building itself. It exists, but needs people around and operating it in order for it to fully function. Sure, it could use some work. After all, it's almost twenty years old and could probably use a facelift. It happens when buildings age and are only taken care of or held to minimal standards.

The elephant in the room is Deshaun Watson. More specifically, his progress as a franchise/superstar quarterback. I've heard different people talk about this in one way, shape, form or whatever. AJ and Fred covered it on ESPN Houston's The Blitz. My friend @itsDanielBsr tweeted it and brought it up as well. There were others who talked about this topic, but these were the two places I encountered it in which I could pay closer attention.

When it comes to Watson, most people believe he's a great talent. However, there is a growing sentiment that it's time for him to take the next step. Watson turned 25 on September 14. He signed his four-year extension about a week before his birthday. When you're getting paid like a top quarterback and people recognize you as one of the better young quarterbacks, there comes a time when you need to poop or get off the pot.

When calling Watson to the carpet, people will call O'Brien into question. O'Brien is a factor in holding Watson back some. He's been the play-caller his whole time here in Houston up until this year when he allegedly turned it over to Tim Kelly. We've all seen how that has gone. O'Brien is also the general manager that traded away Watson's top target in DeAndre Hopkins. These type of things can hinder a young quarterback's growth and development, but at what point do we stop blaming O'Brien and start looking at Watson?

Some will point to the offensive line as a key factor as to why Watson isn't progressing. We've seen him escape sacks and create plays out of thin air. But when is it time to call him to the carpet for not going through his reads and/or making a check-down? He often escapes sacks and looks downfield, but should he be looking to scramble more often? Should he be reading progressions better? These intimate details are answers we won't ever get, but we hope we can understand that Watson is making his reads and decisions the way he's supposed to.

Whether it's his big extension, his bumbling idiot of a head coach, his lack of protection, or his lack of weapons, fans will eventually stop giving Watson a pass. Del said it best on ESPN Houston's The Bench: When will people stop bringing up Clemson when talking about Watson's greatness? NFL quarterbacks have their college career talked about in their rookie seasons. After that, it's all about what have you done for me lately. I sincerely hope Watson realizes his tremendous potential. He's a star now and a superstar in the making. The one thing that he needs is the success on the field that will catapult him into the upper echelon of the other top talents at his position. Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Pat Mahomes, Russell Wilson, and Lamar Jackson all have either a league MVP award and/or a Super Bowl ring. If Watson is to be mentioned in that rarefied air, he needs to start taking the necessary steps. The clock is ticking and people are watching. Your move Deshaun.

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