The Rockets Report

Rockets win streak reaches nine with tougher tests coming this week

Things are pointing in the right direction for James Harden and the Rockets. NBA.COM

The Rockets capitalized on the extra rest they were afforded during their two-game work schedule this past week, stretching their winning streak to nine games after beating the Utah Jazz last Thursday and winning an absolute battle with the Portland Trail Blazers this past Saturday. With two more wins, the Rockets have taken over as the best team in the league.

Game 23: Rockets at Utah Jazz (W, 112-101)

It seems as though in almost every game the Rockets play in, they have an offensive explosion that opposing teams simply cannot recover from. In this case, that explosion came in the form of a 37-point third quarter. James Harden led the game with 29 points, followed by Ryan Anderson with 23. Chris Paul continued to play his role as the glue guy, adding 18 points, 13 assists, 9 rebounds, and 3 steals.

Game 24: Rockets at Portland Trail Blazers (W, 124-117)

The Rockets have been beating teams so handily this season that the only narrative angle anyone has been able to come up with as far as a potential weakness would be Harden and Paul’s inexperience sharing the court in close games. The point was proved moot at least for a moment on Saturday night, as Houston completed a come-from-behind victory after withstanding a 35-point offensive onslaught from Damian Lillard. Harden scored 15 of the Rockets’ 40 points in the fourth quarter to complete the comeback. He would finish with 48. Nearly lost in the shadow of Harden’s brilliant performance was Paul’s 26 point outing.

Takeaways

  • Open looks: One of the biggest positives to Paul’s return to the lineup has been his effect on Anderson’s shooting percentage. In 16 games played without Paul, Anderson shot .376 from the field. In the 9 games they’ve shared the court, Anderson’s percentage is almost 50% (.498).

  • Working on both sides: To no one’s surprise, the Rockets are currently ranked second in the league in points per game. It was stated early in the season, however, that improving on defense was a priority if they were to make a deeper run in the playoffs. To say they’ve improved is an understatement. Having ended last season as the 18th ranked team defensively, the Rockets head into the 2nd third of the season currently ranked 8th in points allowed.

  • With Paul settling into his typical elite distributor role, Harden was overtaken by Russell Westbrook as the league’s assist leader this week. If it’s any consolation, Harden still league in points, averaging 32.3 per game at an unreal 46% shooting percentage.

Looking ahead

The Rockets have a full plate of home cooking this week as they host the Pelicans on Monday, the Hornets on Wednesday, the Spurs on Friday, and the Bucks on Saturday. The Pelicans sport one of the nastiest frontcourts in the NBA with superstars Demarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis, but they’ve been unable to maintain any consistency. The Hornets will have a chance to avenge the 109-93 blowout suffered earlier in the season, but at 9-16 on the season, I don’t envision them capitalizing on the opportunity. Friday the Rockets will get their first look at the Spurs this season, as they welcome back Kawhi Leonard from injury. At 19-8, the Spurs represent the biggest test for the Rockets since Nov. 9 versus the Cavs. Finally, the Rockets host the Bucks and one of my favorite players in the league, Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Bucks are 15-10, but they could prove to be a sneaky difficult contest now that they’re finally healthy. From the looks of it, I would assume that the Rockets win streak ends sometime toward the end of next week, adding at least two more wins in the interim.

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Here's why the Texans will make the playoffs under Lovie Smith

1. The Houston Texans had a mentally tough practice Saturday. The team has worked a lot in pads and Lovie Smith noted the days starting to build up on them during this practice. The head coach said this is a good practice because it is like the fourth quarter of the games the team will end up playing.

2. Davis Mills threw one of the best passes he has thrown all camp on Saturday. In a red zone drill, he dropped back and whipped a pass between two defenders into the tightest window he has had all camp. Nico Collins hauled in the threaded pass for a score.

3. A few reps later Davis Mills struck again. With traffic from linebackers and defensive backs, he found Chris Conley for a score. It wasn’t as tight of a window as the first one, but Mills snapped it off nonetheless.

4. Pharaoh Brown made something hard look very easy on Saturday. With Mills rolling out and tossing the ball to Brown in the back corner Brown hauled in a one-handed catch and had both feet down. Touchdown. Brown then acted like it was no big deal.

5. Pharaoh Brown has had a wonderful camp. Lovie Smith named him the starting tight end. The thing that really jumped out to me today is he makes his work look easy. He isn’t straining to excel in his opportunities. The good ones always make it look easy and it has looked easy for Brown so far.

6. Rookie linebacker Christian Harris is on the shelf for a few days. He joins fellow rookie Kenyon Green as players who are injured. Max Scharping played left guard with Green down. Wide receiver Phillip Dorset practiced while veteran wideout Chester Rodgers did not.

7. Roy Lopez flashed again today. While Friday was about the rushing attack and Lopez made his presence felt at defensive tackle, he got into the pass rush Saturday. Lopez would have had a bone-crushing sack in a live rep.

8. Ross Blacklock hasn’t been consistent. A statement like that is good and evil. There are some plays where Blacklock looks like he isn’t a factor. I watched one today. A play later he had what would have been a sack on the play. He’s a player to watch in the preseason games closely.

9. Don’t expect to see Derek Stingley in the preseason opener next Saturday. Lovie Smith wouldn’t commit to the rookie cornerback playing in the preseason. Smith did say Stingley is on track to play week one in the regular season.

10. Brevin Jordan has had a nice camp and should be an important piece for the team. Jordan had a bad drop in 7-on-7 drills that he was beating himself up over for a few minutes. That was out of the norm. He’s been used a lot and will be on the field a bit it seems for the Texans.

11. Brevin Jordan also rattled off a few contenders for the quote of the day. He exclaimed he had taken care of himself this offseason and he finally had abs. He also revealed he’s quite the fisherman and once caught a 125-pound tuna. When asked what he did with the tuna Jordan laughed and said “RIP tuna!”

Listen to Cody Stoots weekdays afternoons 3-7pm on his show "The Wheelhouse" live on ESPN 97.5 + 92.5 FM or anytime on demand at the podcast here.

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