Taking care of business

The Rockets report, brought to you by APG&E: Rockets blowout Minnesota in Houston 139-109

Tonight, the Rockets showed what they could be capable of when they reach their peaks as a team. In a night without Clint Capela (right heel soreness) and P.J. Tucker (hurt his shoulder in the middle of the first quarter), Houston really turned it on defensively. The Rockets only allowed 95.4 points per 100 possessions and outscored the Wolves by 26.3 points per 100 possessions. For the first time in a long time, the Rockets completely destroyed a team they were supposed to beat.

In terms of noteworthy items, obviously P.J. Tucker's injury in the first quarter was brutal and very scary for a Rockets team that was already struggling to keep it together defensively. Tucker took a hard screen that he wasn't expecting from Gorgui Dieng in the first quarter and was completely laid out for a good four minutes before he walked to the locker room with the Rockets' training staff. Tucker never returned, but according to head coach Mike D'Antoni, he will be fine and possibly ready to go on Tuesday against the Memphis Grizzlies.

Another noteworthy development is D'Antoni opting to insert guard Ben McLemore into the starting lineup and moving Danuel House to the bench as a backup power forward. According to D'Antoni, this was a move designed to bring more minutes to players like Austin Rivers and ease the burden for P.J. Tucker at the power forward position. House had also been struggling to shoot the ball as of late so this also may be a way of rewarding the hot hand in McLemore. It's unclear if McLemore will continue to start this season, but D'Antoni left the possibilities open-ended.

It's hard to talk about this game without discussing how well Isaiah Hartenstein played tonight (17 points, 15 rebounds, 5 blocks, and 2 steals on 8 of 9 shooting from the field). Hartenstein was given the start at center tonight and took good advantage of the opportunity he was given. Although he won't be receiving "star of the game" or "honorable mention" tonight, Russell Westbrook and James Harden both raved about him as a clear consolation prize.

This was a really solid win for Houston and there's really not much else to say here.

Star of the game: James Harden broke out of the mini-slump he was on, tallying 32 points, 12 rebounds, 8 assists, and 2 steals on 8 of 17 shooting from the field, 6 of 11 shooting from three-point range, and 10 of 13 shooting from the free-throw line. Harden had 11 turnovers, but a lot of these were collected during his poor start to the game (4 points, 5 turnovers, and 1 of 6 shooting from the field). He was incredible and since the Rockets were up so big early on, Harden got the opportunity to rest for the entire fourth quarter, only playing 28 minutes.

Honorable mention: Russell Westbrook was the main reason Houston was able to gain the early lead. Although he had a particularly bad shooting stretch in the middle of the game, he corrected it in the fourth quarter and finished with 30 points 10 assists, 6 rebounds, and 2 stals on 10 of 23 shooting from the field and 9 of 10 shooting from the free throw line.

Key moment: The Rockets really took advantage of the Timberwolves in the second and third quarters, where they outscored them 80-56. Harden had a poor first quarter, but really got it going in the second quarter where he logged 18 points and 7 rebounds on 5 of 5 shooting from the field and 4 of 4 shooting from three-point range. Minnesota never recovered from that and failed to make a run in the fourth quarter.

Up next: The Rockets travel to Memphis to play the Grizzlies at 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday.

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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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