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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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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