Micro ball prevails again

The Rockets report, brought to you by APG&E: Rockets defeat Pelicans in Houston 117-109

For the second game in a row, the Rockets did not play a player taller than 6'7" for the entirety of regulation and won. For all of the skepticism its' gotten, Mike D'Antoni's new, twisted version of small ball is now 3-0. Houston has essentially forgone the rebounding battle in all games without Clint Capela in favor of forced turnovers and an extra-spaced floor and it's working.

Defensively, the Rockets had no answer for rookie Zion Williamson, who scored 21 points on 8 of 14 shooting from the field and 5 of 7 shooting from the free throw line. The Rockets threw P.J. Tucker, Eric Gordon, Ben McLemore, and James Harden on them, all with little success. Nonetheless, Houston managed to force New Orleans to shoot 10 for 33 beyond the arc and made them turn it over 21 times, which aided in their efforts to win the possession battle.

Houston's success with the small-ball unit shouldn't overshadow how hopeless Houston is long-term without this version of James Harden (40 points, 10 rebounds, 9 assists, and 2 blocks). Harden was attacking mismatches throughout the game and the Pelicans never really found anyone who could consistently stay in front of him. Once they finally did, his shot, which had betrayed him for the month of January, started dropping.

It'll be interesting to see if Clint Capela misses the entire stretch of games before the All-Star break and comes back rested and healthy. Considering the success they've had with it, Houston has no other choice but to continue playing this small-ball unit until teams give them a reason not to.

Star of the game: James Harden had easily his best game of the new year, tallying 40 points, 10 rebounds, 9 assists, and 2 blocks on 12 of 24 shooting from the field and 7-15 shooting from beyond the arc. Harden was assertive from the start of the game to the finish and confidence-wise, he looked like the Harden of old. With a spaced floor, the Pelicans had no one-on-one answer for Harden for the vast majority of the game.

Honorable mention: Russell Westbrook didn't have the same level of efficiency as he did throughout the month, so honorable mention for today goes to Ben McLemore. McLemore chipped in 22 point on 6 of 12 shooting from the field and 4 of 9 shooting from beyond the arc.

Key moment: Defensively, the Rockets really locked in in the fourth quarter, only allowing 16 points from the Pelicans while scoring 25 of their own. They seemed to get their switching down pat and by the fourth quarter, Houston was seamlessly executing their rotations on a swing. By the end of the fourth quarter, the Pelicans were actually leading 93-92, but this fourth quarter surge gave Houston a secure 8-point victory.

Up next: The Rockets finish off their homestand against the Charlotte Hornets at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday.

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Keep an eye on Alex Bowman this weekend. Image via: Wiki Commons.

For the first time since July 1984, NASCAR returns to one of its most popular cities in Nashville, Tennessee for the inaugural Ally 400 at Nashville Super Speedway. This track is a 1 1/3rd mile concrete oval that was dormant for nearly ten years and was only used as a testing facility. So it came as a bit of a surprise last season when it was announced that this track would be getting a date. For a lot of drivers, this will be a brand new racetrack, but we will see practice and qualifying, so that will be a huge help for the newcomers that haven't raced here before. Back when the Xfinity and Trucks ran here, this track featured a lot of first time winners. Back in 2008, future NASCAR champion Brad Keselowski shocked the world by jumping in Dale Jr's car and capturing his first win here. There will be a lot of veterans like Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick who have plenty of experience at this track, but it will be tough to compare. It should be fun with everyone coming into this race with minimal knowledge.

Last week, Kyle Larson continued his hot streak by winning the All-Star Race. Overall, while Larson and his Hendrick teammates probably enjoyed the race, the feedback from crews and fans was less than positive. As I was walking through the garage area and talking to a few crew members, a lot of them were very critical of the 450 horsepower motor and the tall spoiler to try and keep the cars bunched up. When I asked one of the crew-members what he thought about the package he told me, "Oh it's awful. The track is terrible, the package makes it impossible to pass and it's super hot out here." On green flag runs, it was the same as it ever was as the lead car would pretty much take off and the only time there was really any "pack racing" it came after there were restarts. The whole race was well-intentioned and the fans showed up as it was nearly a capacity crowd, but the whole thing just didn't make any sense. From the start time being in the nearly 100 degree heat to the wacky full-field invert at the end of each stage. Let's hope that next season's All-Star Race is a lot more concise.

In Silly Season news this week, Truck Series regulars GMS racing announced that they would be fielding a full-time cup series team. The team is currently owned by Allegiant Airlines CEO Maurice Gallagher and his son, Spencer, who used to drive for them in the Xfinity Series. This move seemed to come from out of nowhere as there was never any indication that this was a move they were exploring anytime soon after they turned down the opportunity to purchase Furniture Row Racing in 2019. This is certainly a great sight for the sport as there will be more new teams on the track and with their close relationship with Chevy, it wouldn't be a surprise if they step in and help this team become competitive. The favorite to drive their car has to be 2020 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion Sheldon Creed. He has easily been their best driver in trucks, and it would make the most sense for him to get the promotion.

This week at Nashville, the driver that I have winning is Alex Bowman. Now while this is a brand new racetrack and he has a grand total of zero starts here, this track suits his driving style perfectly. With the inclusion of this track, there are now four tracks with a concrete surface. Nashville, Bristol, Dover and Martinsville. At the three of the tracks they have run at, he has shown a lot of speed, including a victory at Dover this season and a top ten finish at Bristol. This is also a track where crew-chief Greg Ives said Bowman has gravitated towards during testing. In an interview with Sirius XM Ives was quoted as saying "we used to have a lot of fun testing there," so this is clearly a track that they both enjoy going to. Another big factor going into Sunday will be just how fast these Hendrick Motorsports cars are, they have finished 1-2 over the last four points races. He has watched his teammates Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott have immense success, and now this week I think he is due for a third win of the season. Look for the bright purple #48 Chevy to go to victory lane this week at Nashville.

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