Victory atlast

The Rockets report, brought to you by APG&E: Rockets defeat Nuggets in Houston 121-105

Against a depleted Denver Nuggets squad, the Houston Rockets attained their first team victory since January 11th. Although Denver was missing Paul Millsap, Gary Harris, Jamal Murray, and Michael Porter Jr., this was an important win for the Rockets. They kept their spirits high throughout this losing streak, but it wasn't hard to see that they were spiraling.

"God I hope so," responded Mike D'Antoni when asked if the Rockets could build off this win. "We had energy and it starts on the defensive end. We were able to run."

The Rockets were able to sustain a consistent effort on the defensive glass after struggling for a while in no small part due to Russell Westbrook (10 defensive rebounds, 16 total). Apparently, Westbrook had been downplaying his effort on the glass and allowing Clint Capela to grab them in an effort to better acclimate to the team. However, the Rockets talked as a team and Westbrook voluntarily said he would return to his old rebounding ways to try and resolve the growing defensive rebounding problems.

"I've been BS'ing, kind of leaving it up to Clint [Capela] when that's a huge part of my game and I'm going to stay locked in on that for sure," said Westbrook postgame. "This whole process has been big for me. I'm trying to figure out where I make the most impact when my team needs it. Coach emphasized that rebounding was down and that's a huge part of my game and I feel like I'm the best at that in my position."

If the Rockets can consistently get this version of Russell Westbrook (28 points, 16 rebounds, 8 assists, and 4 steals), James Harden (27 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, and 2 steals), and Eric Gordon (25 points, 6 of 8 shooting from three-point range), this team could be in a much better position than where it's at right now and they know that.

Star of the game: James Harden's statline may not pop off the boxscore, but it was pretty darn efficient. Harden tallied 27 points, 5 rebound, 5 assists, and 2 steals on 6 of 13 shooting from the field, 13 of 15 shooting from the free throw line, and 2 of 6 from three-point range. This was a statline you'd see from Harden in 2015, not 2020. Knowing his own shooting struggles, Harden kept his head down and attacked the basket for most of the night, limiting his attempts from beyond the arc.

Honorable mention: If Russell Westbrook were more efficient tonight, he'd be the star of the game. Westbrook logged an impressive 28 points, 16 rebounds, 8 assists, 4 steals, and 1 block, but it was on 11 of 25 shooting from the field. Nevertheless, Westbrook's energy kept Houston firmly in the lead for most of the night and he found guys like Eric Gordon and P.J. Tucker for open three-pointers all night (combined 8 of 14 from three).

Key moment: The Rockets really took this game by the throat in the second quarter, limiting Denver to a measly 14 points on 7 of 19 shooting from the field (36.8%). It was by far the best quarter of defense the Rockets have played in January.

Up next: The Rockets travel to Minnesota to take on the Timberwolves at 7:00 p.m. on Friday.

Plus the head coach and general manager weighed in on Deshaun Watson and Laremy Tunsil's futures

O'Brien's commitment to familiarity could be defining moment of his power

Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

What we learned from Bill O'Brien's first public discussion since he was officially named the coach and general manager.

Tim Kelly is the new play caller for the Texans offense

Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly has been with Bill O'Brien since he took over as the head coach at Penn State. Kelly followed to the NFL when O'Brien took over the Texans and before last season Kelly was named the team's offensive coordinator.

Now, for just the second time as head coach, O'Brien is handing over the play calling duties. The last time O'Brien did this was when George Godsey was promoted to offensive coordinator and the offense regressed with Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett. Godsey would lose those duties and ultimately his job after the 2016 season.

This is one of the few changes to an offense that took a step back from 2018 last season. The defense was overhauled, as it should have been (more on them next), but little to no change occurred on the offense until Kelly took the headset. It would have been difficult to expect more from the offense in 2020 if nothing had changed but I believe this could be a significant change for the good.

Kelly has clearly been groomed for this position. He's stuck around as O'Brien hoarded the headset for himself when previous members of the offensive staff, like former Texans coach Sean Ryan, couldn't wait for the time O'Brien would relinquish duties. He's coached all over the offense. He's helped in implementing the offense. When he was, to me at least, clearly calling plays in the second preseason game of 2019 the Texans opened the game with a touchdown. Same in the fourth preseason game. The Texans didn't replicate that feat until week 17.

This also adds pressure to O'Brien's resume of clearly his decisions. If this backfires consider it one of the biggest failures in O'Brien's tenure. He heavily relies on people he knows and has worked with. He rarely goes outside with someone he hasn't coached with before. If Kelly isn't good, and O'Brien has to divide his attention again, consider that a strike against O'Brien.

Inside shot caller on defense too with Anthony Weaver 

With the extreme failure of the Texans defense last season, regardless of their level of talent, it was certainly time for Romeo Crennel to move on. The curious decision was, again, an internal promotion. This time defensive line coach Anthony Weaver was handed the keys to the defense.

O'Brien had high praise for Weaver and the various defensive coordinators he had worked under as a coach and player. He claimed Weaver would have his own style and he's been picking Weaver's brain about what he would do as the head man on defense for a while.

The last time O'Brien experimented with an in-house promotion for the defense was when Mike Vrabel took over in 2017 and the defense finished rated 32nd in points allowed. Despite the defensive failures, Vrabel was rewarded with a head coaching opportunity. Romeo Crennel took back over and the defense got back on track for a year before it went sideways again in 2019.

It would have made a lot of sense to go outside the organization here, but O'Brien again relied on someone he has been priming for this position it would seem. It also, like the offensive decision above, is a line on his resume. It would also be a strike on his resume if it doesn't work out.

Think of a scenario where the defense stays bad and the offense regresses again. That would be a horrible look for O'Brien the decision maker and bad for the results in 2020. But, I do like the youth movement from O'Brien. Weaver will turn 40 this year, and Kelly is in his mid-30's. The last time O'Brien tried both of these moves, it didn't work. If these two hit, O'Brien will look like a genius.

The new contract expert

This is notable as Chris Olsen has rarely made a mistake as the contract and cap expert for the Texans in his time there. His assistant will have his job now, but I can't buy O'Brien not knowing why the change was made.

If indeed this is Jack Easterby's area, he is the team's Executive Vice President of Football Operations, O'Brien brought him into the organization and it wouldn't make sense he is on equal footing as O'Brien. Whatever the reason for Olsen leaving, Krajcovic will have a tough act to follow. Speaking of contract work...

Deshaun Watson and Laremy Tunsil could break the bank

Dehsaun Watson has technically two years left on his deal, with the fourth year of the contract and the fifth-year rookie option. Laremy Tunsil is currently slated for a big raise as his fifth-year rookie option has kicked in.

For Tunsil, his price has to be extremely high. Taylor Lewan and Lane Johnson have two of the largest and best deals at the tackle position. Tunsil has significant advantages over both of those in the negotiation process. He is better than Lewan, younger, and plays left tackle unlike Johnson who plays right tackle. The Texans also moved a huge amount of draft assets to get the left tackle. Most elite player don't play on the fifth-year option. Tunsil shouldn't and likely won't.

Deshaun Watson's contract could be heavily contingent on what Patrick Mahomes gets in his new deal. The Eagles and the Rams really upset the way of doing business when they paid Carson Wentz and Jared Goff a year before first round quarterbacks traditionally get paid. Both Watson and Mahomes should be seeking new deals, and it could be a standoff between the two to see who signs first. They each have been far better than Goff and Wentz and should be paid better than both.

O'Brien thumbs up on XFL

O'Brien mentioned the kickoff rule as one he liked. The NFL has to adopt that rule. It is the best way to do kickoffs.

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