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State of the Rockets: Robert Covington's IQ, Russell Westbrook shooting threes again, and more

Rockets' advanced stats (per cleaningtheglass.com)

As of last week:

Offensive RTG: 113.5 (5th)

Defensive RTG: 110.1 (15th)

Net RTG: +3.4 (10th)

As of this week:

Offensive RTG: 114.0 (3rd)

Defensive RTG: 110.0 (15th)

Net RTG: +4.0 (7th)

Biggest developments:

1. Rockets sign DeMarre Carroll and Jeff Green on the buyout market

Compared to the other players that were out there (namely Marvin Williams and Markieff Morris), DeMarre Carroll and Jeff Green are probably on the middle end of the spectrum of buyout players. At this point, it's unclear if either of these players will secure a rotation spot come playoff time. One would think Carroll would be the obvious candidate for a spot considering he's probably been the better NBA player for his career, but it seems the Rockets really want to give Green a serious look at backup center. Green's athleticism makes him an obvious lob threat, but inconsistent offensive play and defensive liabilities have plagued him throughout his career.

I suppose if he were to become a productive player in the NBA, it would be at center. You don't have to be a knockdown shooter and if you're going to switch everything like the Rockets, you don't have to be a great rim protector. Still, selling yourself on Jeff Green is something you should do at your own risk. He is on a ten-day contract so there's no risk in Houston getting a look at him for a few games to see if they like the fit.

It will be interesting to see if Carroll can crack what has turned out to be a crowded wing rotation. Between Harden, Covington, Gordon, House, and, McLemore, there's just not a lot of minutes to go around. It's possible Carroll is on the roster to be break-in-case-of-emergency kind of guy considering injuries are unpredictable and the Rockets may need veterans to help fill a role in a pinch.

2. Holy crap, Robert Covington is good

There was never really a question whether Robert Covington would provide value to Houston when they traded for him at the deadline. The question was always whether or not that value would be worth moving on from Clint Capela and Houston's 2020 first round pick. So far, he's been brilliant.

Houston Rockets without Robert Covington:

Offensive RTG: 105.7

Defensive RTG: 122.3

Net RTG: -16.5

Houston Rockets with Robert Covington:

Offensive RTG: 118.2

Defensive RTG: 102.5

Net RTG: +15.7

Defensively, he's incredibly intelligent and it kind of feels like he's been in a box until he got to Houston. What I mean by that is the teams that had Covington played him primarily at small forward and didn't switch nearly as much as the Rockets like to. Don't get me wrong, this is a perfectly fine role for Covington as he's a very good on-ball defender, but you're blanketing one of his greatest strengths. Covington's ability to be a weak-side shot blocker on big men is an asset that's always been there, but it's highlighted with Houston because of the positions they put him in.

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It was tempting to just post one of the three blocks he had on Rudy Gobert on Saturday, but I felt the content was too graphic to post. I have a responsibility to my readers, so I had to make an executive decision. What Covington did to Gobert on Saturday night was just bullying. There's no other way to describe it.

There's also his offense, which, while understated, is still an asset. Covington's three-point shooting stroke is so natural and effortless, it's kind of insulting that he wasn't taking over seven threes a game until he returned to the Rockets. His percentage may be around league average (35.8%), but his willingness to any and all open looks is a something Houston was only getting previously with Ben McLemore.

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It's completely ridiculous that Covington took and made this shot considering how low he caught it and how close the defender was already.

3. Russell Westbrook is shooting threes again

Does anybody remember that five game stretch where Russell Westbrook only attempted two three-pointers and it seemed like he was going to stop shooting them? Well, there's a possibility that people may have jumped the gun there. Over his last six games, Westbrook has attempted 16 three-pointers, almost three times more than the amount he took in the six games prior to this stretch. Now, 16 three-pointers over six games isn't a lot (2.7 per game), but it's possible that he's starting to regain confidence in that shot and will begin taking them at high volume again. He took four against the Jazz, the most he's taken since February 2nd.

There's not a large enough sample size to suggest that Westbrook is just going to start chucking three-pointers again, but it's definitely something to monitor. The Rockets seem to be much more effective when Westbrook is driving in open space and opting for mid-range jumpers as opposed to the threes. He's also become a once-in-a-while lob threat for James Harden when defenders sag off of him in the corners.

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Week of games in review:

Going into the All-Star break, the biggest question for the Rockets was whether or not they'd be able to grab a top seed in the West by making a strong run to close the season. Houston has developed a reputation for closing seasons out much better than how they started them. Last season, the Rockets went 21-7 in their last 28 games with the second best Net Rating in the NBA (+10.4) and were able to grab the 4th seed after being as low as 14th during the season.

If they're going to make a run, this week was about as strong a start as you're going to get. The Golden State win was dominant buzzer to buzzer, which is something to the Rockets have struggled to do all season - bludgeon bad teams. They've beat bad teams, but a true sign of a title contender is having the ability to make it a no-contest by the fourth quarter, which this was. The Utah win was impressive in that it adds to the list of very good teams Houston has been able to beat since they went to micro-ball (Los Angeles, Boston, Utah, etc...). This win also hammered home what we've kind of known for years: Rudy Gobert and the Jazz still don't have any answer against the Rockets' offense in open space, making them close to non-threat to Houston in a competitive playoff series.

They currently sit at the fourth seed with roughly the same win percentage they had last season, so there's an opportunity to approach the high 50-win team mark if they're persistent.

Questions for the coming week:

1. Can Houston keep up this defensive intensity?

Defending at a high level without at least one traditional center is tough and it requires a lot of team effort and little margin for error. Houston's point-of-attack defense has to be strong as they're isn't a seven-footer at the rim to deter or alter shots if they screw up. There are points where the Rockets don't seem to have it and it becomes a layup drill for opposing teams - the first half against the Jazz being a great example of this. They can only have one bad quarter a game if they want to be a top-ten defense by season's end.

Over their last three games, the Rockets have a stellar defensive rating of 104.3, good for fourth in the NBA. Their ability to carry this momentum through the rest of the season is going to tell us a lot about their viability in the playoffs.

2. Is Jeff Green the full-time backup center?

As stated earlier, the Rockets are making a concerted effort to get a look at Jeff Green as the full-time backup to P.J. Tucker, but there may be competition at that spot, particularly from the person who last occupied that spot in Thabo Sefolosha. Sefolosha is older and not as athletic, but he's shown the ability to always be in the right positions defensively and make less mistakes than Jeff Green. It looked like he'd found a comfort level at the backup center spot too.

It's possible that Sefolosha's just fallen out of the lineup, but I would not be surprised if he made a return soon. Green has to play really well during this home stretch to secure a rest-of-the-season contract with Houston.

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Kelvin Sampson has the Cougars rolling. Bob Levey/Getty Images

The final regular season game for the Houston Cougars men's basketball team took place Sunday, March 7th in the Fertitta Center.

There was some controversy as the game was initially scheduled to take place in Memphis, but was moved to Houston due to a COVID-19 related issues. The contest was originally supposed to happen on Feb. 14 in Houston but was postponed due to the aforementioned COVID issues in the Memphis program.

The American Athletic Conference stated that if a game had to be postponed it would be played at the venue of the team that did not have the COVID-19 issues.

Memphis was not happy about the relocation.

"In a year full of challenges, we are greatly disappointed for our players and fans that our final home game of the season could not remain in Memphis," Memphis Director of Athletics Laird Veatch said. "This is especially sad for our senior managers and students in band, cheer and pom, who will not be able to celebrate their last experience in FedExForum.

Although unfortunate for Memphis and their fans, it did give Houston one extra home game, and a chance to have their true senior day.

Seniors Dejon Jarreau, Justin Gorham and Brison Gresham were honored during a pregame ceremony in front of a socially distanced crowd at the Fertitta Center.

There were few dry eyes on the court including head coach Kelvin Sampson who was emotional during the ceremony.

Those emotions quickly changed from bittersweet to confusion as Memphis jumped out to an early lead in the first half.

Head coach Penny Hardaway had his Tigers play trap style defense which lead to many double teams on Quentin Grimes and Jarreau, forcing other players to step up.

This strategy worked as Memphis was able to force the Cougars to make multiple turnovers early on.

Houston had a four point lead at halftime, and the game continued to be a back and forth contest until the end.

Houston was up 64-61 with nine seconds left to go in the game, and Memphis had one shot to tie the game.

Sophomore guard Lester Quinones missed a 3-pointer, but Houston couldn't secure the rebound to put the game away.

Instead, the ball bounced out to Boogie Ellis who hit his lone 3-pointer of the game with 1.7 seconds left to tie it at 64.

Coach Sampson was able to call a final timeout with 1.7 seconds left in the game.

For the final play, he drew up an inbounds play that had been tried in practice, but has never been performed in a game.

"I don't think it's ever worked," UH forward Justin Gorham said.

From the opposite side of the court, Marcus Sasser inbounded the ball via a bounce pass to Tramon Mark near center court.

Mark was double-teamed by the Houston logo and threw up a prayer.

That prayer resulted in a bank shot off of the backboard to win the game 67-64 as time expired.

"To do that on senior day for those guys, that just makes it even better," Mark said after the game on Twitter.

It was a tremendous way to end the regular season for the Cougars as they gear up and head to the AAC tournament in Fort Worth.

Before Houston headed to the locker room to celebrate, Sampson had some final words for Cougars fans.

"Never give up on your Coogs!"

MOVING UP: With this victory, Houston has moved up to the 7th ranked team in the country and are looking to secure a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

UP NEXT: March is in full swing, and the Cougars will be the No. 2 seed in the AAC tournament. They will face the winner of Tulsa and Tulane on Friday, March 12th at 6 p.m CT

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