The Westbrook game

The Rockets report, brought to you by APG&E: Rockets defeat Timberwolves in Minnesota 131-124

When the Rockets acquired Russell Westbrook in July, they knew what they were getting. There would be nights where he would score 28 points on 30 shots, turn the ball over 4 times, and look like an insane person. There would also be nights where he tallies 45 points, 10 assists, 6 rebounds, and a steal on good efficiency and absolutely carry Houston over the finish line. This is the Westbrook experience in a bottle and there's really no negotiating with it. It's a hell of a visual either way.

On a night where James Harden looked injured and miserable (12 points on 3 of 13 shooting from the field, 3 turnovers, and a plus-minus of -7), Westbrook took completely control of the offense and put on a clinic. Westbrook was keeping Clint Capela (18 points on 9 of 12 shooting) and shooters engaged (Eric Gordon and Austin Rivers combined for 43 points on 8 of 16 shooting from beyond the arc) while also scoring the ball with relative ease. It was as good as he looked in a regular season game all year and one of his better performances since his MVP season in 2016-17.

The Rockets are still well behind where they need to be defensively, but after the losing streak they had, a win like this matters a whole lot more than how it was carried out. Defensive ratings and point differentials be damned as they currently sit as the 6th seed in the Western Conference. At the moment, Houston needs to bag more of these victories before they refine the way they go about collecting them.

Star of the game: You won't find a stronger argument for what would be Russell Westbrook's ninth All-Star appearance than tonight. Westbrook was sensational, tallying a season-high 45 points, dishing out 10 assists, and grabbing 6 rebounds in the process on 16 of 27 shooting from the field and 13 for 13 shooting from the free throw line. In a game where James Harden was clearly battling a lower leg injury, Westbrook carried Houston over the finish line with easily his best game of the season. For all the rough games Westbrook will give you, it's important to remember that he has the capability to give you a night like this.

Honorable mention: There are a couple of candidates for second place tonight, but it'll ultimately have to go to Eric Gordon who scored 27 points on 8 of 19 shooting from the field, 6 of 13 shooting from three-point range, and 5 of 7 shooting from the free throw line. After scoring a season-high 25 points on Wednesday against the Denver Nuggets, Gordon's been on a little bit of a roll from beyond the arc. It could be a random hot stretch, but it's more likely the case that Gordon is rounding into season shape after returning from his right knee arthroscopy. He won't always give Houston nights like this, but it's nice to know that it's in his capabilities.

Key moment: The Rockets came out of the gates in the third quarter a bit slow defensively, giving up a 13-4 run to give the Timberwolves a 73-67 lead. After that, the Rockets came out of the timeout and went on a 9-3 run of their own to tie the game up at 76-76. Houston ended up building on their halftime lead by outscoring Minnesota 31-24 in the third quarter and Russell Westbrook scored or assisted 19 of those 31 points.

Up next: The Rockets travel to Denver on Sunday at 2:30 p.m. to take on the Nuggets.

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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