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State of the Rockets: Rockets waive Gary Clark, Ben McLemore joins starting unit, and more

Rockets' advanced stats (per cleaningtheglass.com):

As of last week:

Offensive RTG: 114.1 (3rd)

Defensive RTG: 109.2 (17th)

Net RTG: +4.9 (7th)

As of this week:

Offensive RTG: 113.8 (3rd)

Defensive RTG: 108.7 (15th)

Net RTG: +5.1 (6th)

Biggest developments:

1. Rockets waive second-year forward Gary Clark

January 7th was the final day before Gary Clark's contract became fully-guaranteed and he was waived shortly before that could happen. The logical conclusion to draw from this is that after months of speculation, the Rockets have indeed left themselves a window to get under the luxury tax and this year's trade deadline again. Clark wasn't a world-beater, but it would have only cost Houston breathing room from the luxury tax to keep him. Although Rockets' GM Daryl Morey was "given the green light" to pay the luxury tax this summer by owner Tilman Fertitta, he also made these comments before acquiring guard Russell Westbrook, which made it harder for Houston to dodge the repeater tax if they were to become a tax team this year

Now, to be completely fair, it doesn't look like the Rockets will lose any sleep over Gary Clark and they've now left themselves an open roster spot for buyout candidates later this month or in February. Per 36 minutes, Clark was averaging 11.9 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.5 blocks, 0.3 steals and was shooting 35.3% from three-point range. Clark possessed good length and had his moments defensively, but the prospect of him becoming a key NBA rotation player was shaky at best. This wasn't great optics, but it probably won't come back to bite the Rockets.

2. Mike D'Antoni moves Ben McLemore to the started lineup and Danuel House to the bench

To say that Danuel House has been in a slump would be putting it generously. Over his last five games, House has been averaging 5.4 points per game, 3.4 rebounds per game, 1.2 assists per game, and 0.4 steals per game on 48.6% true shooting. House has been bad and it's unknown why he's struggling after coming out of the gates hot this season (averaged 12.5 points, 4.2 rebounds, 1.2 assists, and 1.5 steals on 66.1% true shooting in November).

However, starting a 6'5" Ben McLemore at small forward alongside 6'5" P.J. Tucker at power forward is still a bold decision. The Rockets believe this will free up more minutes for Austin Rivers at backup point guard as it allows them to cleanly play Eric Gordon and Rivers at the backup guard positions. This also allows Tucker, who'd been averaging a career high 35 minutes per game to this point, to get some rest with House backing him up at backup power forward. The indecisiveness at starting small forward does indicate one thing though - the Rockets need wing help and they need it badly. They've now alternated between James Ennis, Eric Gordon, Danuel House, and Ben McLemore at starting small forward over the past two years.

This may be a decent temporary solution, but long-term, Houston needs more duct tape at the forward spots. For what it's worth, McLemore has played really well with the starting unit.

3. P.J. Tucker's shooting slump continues

One of the underrated storylines for the Rockets this past month has been P.J. Tucker's shooting slump. Over his last 9 games, Tucker has shot a measly 12.5% from three-point range on 2.7 attempts per game. Before the slump, Tucker was a near-40% three-point shooter and his slump has really damaged the Rockets offense (down 0.3 points per 100 possessions from last week alone). The Rockets like to play with a spaced floor and Tucker's emergence as an elite three-point shooter has been one of the reasons they've been able to make defenses pay for doubling James Harden.

Now, Tucker will almost assuredly bounce back from this based on his Houston three-point percentages (37.4%). However, it is definitely something to monitor going forward, especially with the recent injury to Tucker's shoulder suffered against Minnesota.

Week of games in review:

This was a weird week for the Rockets as they've had just about every kind of game on the spectrum. They had a bad loss in Oklahoma City, a mediocre victory against the Atlanta Hawks on the road, and an impressive blowout victory against the Timberwolves in Houston. On the whole, this week tracked with their season long theme - good with room for improvement.

It's consistency that's really plagued the Rockets. For example, in Atlanta they came out to a 45-29 lead where they looked as dominant as ever before fumbling the rest of the game and escaping with a narrow 122-115 victory. When they get large leads, they've struggled to put teams away - a hallmark of true tier one championship contenders. However, it is encouraging that their defense is starting to get better (up 0.5 points per 100 possessions from last week).

Questions for the coming week:

1. How do the Rockets match up with the class of the West on Saturday?

Saturday is as big of game as the Rockets are going to play all season. Through 40 games, the Lakers are clearly the gold standard of the Western Conference (33-7 with a net rating of +8.2). There are so many important questions to be answered here:

a) Do the Rockets have enough quality defenders to throw at LeBron James?

b) How does Houston handle the size discrepancy in dealing with the Lakers' fairly big front court?

c) Can the Rockets score consistently enough against one of the best defenses in the NBA (4th per cleaningtheglass.com)

P.J. Tucker will obviously handle the initial assignment on LeBron James, but how the secondary defenders handle mismatches and crossmatches against James is something to watch for. How a defense like Los Angeles defends James Harden will also give some important insight for a possible playoff matchup between the two teams. For the most part, this is a completely new matchup as the two teams have not faced each other in their new iterations. How all these questions get answered will be fascinating.

2) How does Houston look defensively with Ben McLemore in the starting lineup?

Offensively, the Rockets should hum with Ben McLemore in the starting unit as McLemore offers a spacing element that was starting to get lost with Danuel House. However, it's defensively that'll be the most interesting quandary for Houston. McLemore, to his credit, gives a lot of effort when defending on-the-ball. It's off the ball where his issues lay as McLemore gets beat on back cuts fairly easily and can get lost in Houston's scheme. You can survive one, maybe even two sub-par defenders in the starting unit, but three sounds like it could be a breaking point that opposing defenses can exploit. This is something the Rockets will need to think about when evaluating this unit now as it could become a concern come playoff time.

WWE's Royal Rumble arrives this Sunday at Minute Maid Park. Photo by Paul Muth

I'm not a big sign guy.

You know sign guys. The people who write puns on posters. The ones who carry the letter "D" in one had and a cutout of a literal fence in the other. The "Houston, YOU have a problem" sign guys.

I tried it once when I was 14, was punched in the face, and sort of lost my appetite after that.

Let me explain.

It was April 1, 2001. Wrestlemania 17. I won't ask my parents how much it cost them, but my aunt and uncle scored floor seats to the greatest spectacle in sports entertainment in no better confines than the Astrodome herself and I got to tag along.

It was a hell of a show. Some say it was one of the best Wrestlemanias ever. The card was stacked, including a Triple-H match against the hometown hero The Undertaker that set the stage for the main event.

At precisely two hours and forty-eight minutes into the event, Undertaker sent Triple-H flying over the barricade and "INTO THE STANDS!"

"Holy crap," 14-year-old Paul thought. "They're headed right down my aisle."

Now I'm not sure how it works these days, but back then it was totally customary to bail on your seat and follow the fight as they weaved up and down the aisles. I wasn't about to miss the chance so I grabbed my poorly scribbled wrestling poster, glanced back and my Aunt for the OK, then darted after the action.

The fight snaked its way up to some scaffolding with a camera perched atop. There, the fight would stall as they battled their way to the top. Oblivious to anything but the action in front of me, I threw my sign up as high as I could, probably screamed at the top of my lungs, and my voice probably cracked in the process. I was 14.

Suddenly someone pushed me in the back of my shoulder. I turned around and there was an old lady, maybe five feet tall, standing on her chair. She had the quintessential cowgirl big hair and enough costume jewelry on to short-circuit a metal detector.

"GET THE @#$% OUT THE WAY, BOY," she commanded in the most east Texas accent you've ever heard in your life. I ignored her and turned back around.

Then she pushed me again.

I turned around again and before I had any clue what was happening, this knockoff mini Dolly Parton had already connected a stiff left hook to my temple. She then grabbed my sign and ripped it in half. Stunned, I retreated to my seat while tending to a now bleeding eyebrow thanks to what I assume was a Wal-Mart engagement ring.

Haven't really been a big sign guy since.

But this weekend the WWE takes over Minute Maid Park for their annual Pay-Per-View event known as the Royal Rumble. It will be the first time since that fateful night in the Astrodome 19 years ago that I've returned to a high profile wrestling event.

Now am I looking forward to this weekend as an opportunity to retake the dignity that was ripped away so long ago? Probably not. I'll most likely just drink a bunch of beer and yell at wrestlers with my friends. But I'm not ruling anything out.

Now instead of a power rankings this week, I figured that in the spirit of the Royal Rumble we could rehash some of the best sports fights Houston's served up:

#5 Charles Barkley throws man through window

Now I know this one didn't happen on a court, but the story is just too good. In a classic case of "play stupid games, win stupid prizes," a 5'2" Floridian by the name of Jorge Lugo decided to harrass the 6'6" then-power forward for the Houston Rockets at an Orlando bar . Barkley ignored and avoided the issue until a Lugo-thrown glass intended for Barkley missed and struck a nearby woman. Bad move. When judge presiding over the ensuing case asked Barkley if he had any regrets, The Round Mound of Rebound replied "Yeah, I regret we weren't on a higher floor."

#4 Chris Paul serves a two-piece to Rajon Rondo

This one is actually fairly recent and adds to what I discovered was a hefty list of Rockets throw downs. After breaking up a stare down between Lakers forward Brandon Ingram and James Harden, Paul and Rondo began a heated chest-to-chest exchange. From all replay indications it appeared as if Rondo then spit on Paul, which triggered a disrespectful finger push to Rondo's face, which then descended into a good old fashioned knuckle sandwich exchange. Paul was suspended for two games.

#3 Derrick Lewis verifies amateur of amateur status

Some dude actually had the nerve to walk in to UFC Heavyweight fighter and Houston native Derrick Lewis' gym and pick a fight. The amateur claimed that he would knock Lewis out because he was an MMA fighter, and not a real boxer. "The Black Beast" was more than happy to oblige, and swiftly teleported the no name into the shadow realm.

#2 Vernon Maxwell fights Portland man

Sometimes people forget that sporting events are intended to be family friendly. Some also forget that players are people with actual feelings. Maxwell claims that aside from general harassment, a Portland fan decided to bring Maxwell's wife's recent miscarriage to light as well. Maxwell stood up from the bench, calmly walked up the stairs, and knocked the crap out of the dude. Maxwell was suspended 10 games.

#1 Andre Johnson baptizes Courtland Finnegan

It had been seasons in the making. Finnegan had built a reputation out of adding cheap shots here and there, ripping helmets off at the end of plays, and various other dirty tactics. In late November of 2010 Johnson had reached the end of his rope. Schadenfreude was the flavor of the day for all Texans fans as Johnson manhandled Finnegan, reigning down fists of righteous justice.

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