The Rockets Report

Rough week for Rockets as injuries contribute to three-game losing streak

Chris Paul was injured against the Lakers. Houston Rockets/Facebook

After going undefeated since a week before Thanksgiving, The Rockets white hot run finally came to an end last week. After a fourth quarter outburst secured the victory against Utah, the Rockets have since dropped three in a row - their longest losing streak of the season.

The Rockets are now second in both the conference and the league, with Golden State holding a one game lead.

Game 29: Rockets vs Utah Jazz (W, 120-99)

The final score is about as misleading as it gets. James Harden and company were in a dogfight from tip off until 8 minutes remained in the fourth. That’s when the Rockets--fueled mainly behind the shooting of Eric Gordon--ignited and scorched the Jazz for a 41-15 fourth quarter to seal the victory. Gordon led the team with 33 points, 17 of which were scored in the fourth quarter alone. Clint Capela ended the game with 24 points and 20 rebounds, and Chris Paul added 18 points, 10 assists and 9 rebounds. A stat correction the following day would end up removing a rebound from Capela and awarding it to Paul, which would register as his first triple-double of the season. Harden would finish with 26 points, 6 assists, and 6 rebounds.

Game 30: Rockets vs LA Lakers (L, 122-116)

The LA Lakers in Houston arrived as severe underdogs after almost stealing a game from Golden State the night before. The heartbreaking loss must have emboldened them, as they erupted out of the gate. The Lakers controlled the game for the entire first half, leading by as much as 22 at one point. The Rockets would chip away, though turning the entire third quarter into a slug fest. Sloppy defense and a career night from Lakers rookie Kyle Kuzma would prove too much to overcome for Houston, despite a 51 point, 9 assist performance from Harden. Gordon would provide the only other 20-plus point performance for the Rockets, adding 21 of his own. Paul had 8 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists before leaving late in the fourth with what would eventually be diagnosed as a left abductor strain.

Game 31: Rockets vs LA Clippers (L, 128-118)

Looking to rebound from their first loss in December, the Rockets jumped out ahead of the Clippers early. Houston would hold on to a steady lead until midway through the third when Austin Rivers tied the game after a 12-point outburst. The Clippers would take the lead and hold on for the win despite a late fourth quarter surge from Houston. Rivers would finish with a career-high 36 points for the Clippers, while Harden recorded his second straight 51-point game. Gordon added 28 points as well.

Game 32: Rockets vs Oklahoma City Thunder (L, 112-107)

With 14 lead changes and neither lead climbing higher than 8 points, this primetime Christmas Day matchup certainly did not disappoint. After a close game throughout, both teams entered the fourth quarter tied at 88. It was OKC’s third ranked defense that would prove to be the deciding factor in the end, as a string of well timed steals and blocks in the final two minutes would seal the Rockets fate. Russell Westbrook finished with 31 points, 11 assists, and 6 rebounds. Paul George and Carmelo Anthony would follow with 24 and 20 points respectively. Harden finished with 29 points 14 assists and 8 rebounds, and Trevor Ariza and Gordon each chipped in 20 as well.

Takeaways

The back to back 50 point games were historic. The last player to record back to back 50 point games was Kobe Bryant in 2007. The last time a player scored 51 points to go with 8 or more assists? According to basketball-reference.com, James Harden is the only person to do it since 1983-1984.

At 32 straight games with 20 or more points (and counting), Harden is ranks among the greats. The only other players that have stretched out a start like this are Wilt Chamberlain, Lebron James, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Two of the losses this week came with Capela on the bench, thus proving just how valuable he’s proven to be to the Rockets this season. His rebounding was expected, but this season his defensive improvement and ability to find soft spots in the defense while teams trap perimeter scorers has been key to the Rockets meteoric start.

Looking Ahead:

The Rockets road doesn’t get much easier for the remainder of the week, with back to back away games against the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards, followed by a home game Sunday against the Lakers. Both the Celtics and Wizards are playoff bound teams with dynamic, difficult backcourt assignments. The Lakers are still a sub .500 team despite their win last Wednesday. Chris Paul should return to the lineup Thursday in Boston, and they’ll need all hands on deck. I expect the Rockets to shake off the current losing streak, taking two out of three heading into the new year.

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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

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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