Another proper blowout

The Rockets report, brought to you by APG&E: Rockets defeat Knicks in Houston 123-112

One of the biggest issues with the Rockets at the beginning of the season was entering the season without the appropriate amount of fear against bad teams. Houston would let teams like the Cavaliers stay in it and often blow the game late. However, since the Rockets have resorted to micro-ball, they're 9-2 and they've beaten the bad teams they're supposed to beat (except Phoenix) by considerable margins.

The Rockets are 3-0 since the All-Star break and two of those wins have come against the Warriors and Knicks, two teams well below .500, but also teams that the Rockets may have lost to in January. In fact, they did lose to the Warriors in a high profile matchup on Christmas Day. As Houston continues to strive for a top three seed in the West, this was an important element they were struggling to nail down in the first half of the season.

After attending NBA legend Kobe Bryant's memorial in Los Angeles just a few hours prior to tip-off, this was a tough night for James Harden, Russell Westbrook, and P.J. Tucker. Westbrook missed his pregame warmup and ended up being a late scratch due to left thumb soreness, Harden hadn't returned home in three weeks, and Tucker had just lost a loved one a few days prior. Though the opponent was weak, this was undoubtedly an impressive win for the Rockets, considering the circumstances.

Star of the game: James Harden cut through the Knicks defense like a hot knife through butter in the first half (31 points and 5 assists on 12 of 16 shooting from the field). It was really surprising that the Knicks never thought to throw a double team at Harden the entire time he was getting easy drives to the basket for layups. Harden ended the game with 37 points, 9 assists, 6 rebounds, and 2 steals on 14 of 25 shooting and was 4 of 11 from three-point range.

Honorable mention: Ben McLemore has been on an unbelievable hot streak from deep ever since the All-Star break and he continued it tonight. McLemore had 17 points 4 of 9 shooting from three-point range. As Harden continually collapsed the defense with his drives, McLemore was wide open for three-pointer after three-pointer and the Knicks defense unbelievably kept giving him open shots. Micro ball has helped almost every Rocket on the team, but McLemore certainly looks to be one of the primary beneficiaries.

Key moment: Behind three ball handlers in the offense, Austin Rivers hasn't had the same chance to shine in the offense as he had last year. However, tonight without Russell Westbrook, Rivers had one of his signature stretches of the season at the end of the third quarter where he scored 14 points on 5 of 5 shooting from the field in five minutes after going scoreless up until that point.

Up next: The Rockets take on the Memphis Grizzlies at 7:00 p.m. in Houston 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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