Rock bottom

The Rockets report, brought to you by APG&E: Rockets lose to Lakers in Houston 124-115

The Rockets have had a number of must-win games this season, but this was one was at the top of the list. Having had two team "discussions" going into tonight, Houston's team morale going into this one was questionable at best. A win over the top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers could have certainly helped spark some momentum that they desperately need right now.

Houston actually started this game the appropriate fear, but that seemed to dissipate as the game went along, particularly in the third quarter where things went completely arry for the Rockets. In addition to poor shooting (1 of 11 from three-point range), the Rockets turned the ball over 6 times, made silly fouls to compound their mistakes, and could not seem to defend the Lakers in transition.

"We just didn't make plays," said Mike D'Antoni after the game. "Then we turned it over a couple times, they got out on the break. We ran them the first half and they upped their pace and ran us the second half."

The Rockets had as many turnovers (20) as assists tonight. This is the worst team to do that against as the Lakers are 10-0 when forcing 20+ turnovers this season.

There's little doubt that this was a make-or-break game for the Rockets given that they lost 3 out of their last 4 before tonight, but it is up to them on if they'll actually break. Publicly, they've kept a brave face, but talk is cheap. There needs to be concrete improvement they can to point to and aside from the first 24 minutes of tonight's game, that's been hard to find.

Star of the game: Despite the poor team play, Russell Westbrook has held his own as of late. Tonight, Westbrook had 35 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists, and 3 steals on 15 of 23 shooting from the field. Westbrook has had at least 30 points and 5 assists in each of the Rockets' last four games.

Honorable mention: His defense wasn't great tonight, but James Harden did find a way to also fill the stat sheet in Houston's loss. Harden was dealing with an aggressive Lakers trap all night, but still managed to get 34 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds, and 1 block on 60.9% true shooting tonight. Again, I'm sure Harden himself wouldn't put this among his proudest performances however.

Key moment:The Rockets were playing really great in the first half on both ends. James Harden was deferring because of Los Angeles' traps, Russell Westbrook was rolling (22 points on 9 of 12 shooting from the field), and Clint Capela was playing very well defensively (9 rebounds, 3 blocks, and a +/- of +9). Things completely for turned for Houston in the third quarter, however. Technical fouls were flying, offensive fouls were being drawn on both ends, and the Rockets lost the lead in the chaos of the opening minutes. Offensively, the Rockets were atrocious in the third quarter (17 points scored on 1 of 11 shooting from three-point range) and defensively, the Lakers ran the ball down Houston's throat.

Up next: The Rockets play the Oklahoma City Thunder in Houston at 4:00 p.m. on Wednesday.

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Keep an eye on Tank Dell this Sunday. Photo by Alex Bierens de Haan/Getty Images.

I remember thinking how in the world can these little frail guys survive at the NFL level? I mean, I saw Joe Theismann and Ed McCaffrey's legs snap. Drew Bledsoe got his chest caved in. Seeing 300-plus pound men cry when injured is humbling. So when a guy like Tank Dell comes along, I'm always a bit apprehensive. Especially when they come with a ton of hype.

For every eight to ten big strong players that get hurt, there's one or two little fellas that have relatively healthy careers. The comp that came to mind when looking at Tank was DeSean Jackson. Listed at 5'10 and weighing a heavy 175 pounds, Jackson was arguably the best “small guy” in NFL history. Dell being about two inches shorter and about ten pounds lighter, while also playing a similar role, is in line to be a similarly electrifying type of player. I put my assessment on the line and doubled down with my predictions on what his, and others' season totals will look like last week:

Tank Dell: 68 catches, 1,105 yards and 6 touchdowns- Dell will be a really good slot, but has some outside skills. Namely, his speed. He's more slippery than if Mick had greased that chicken before Rocky tried catching it. I could see his production going up as the season gets longer because Stroud will begin to look for him more and more as they build chemistry. Yes, I know I only have him with six scores. Keep in mind this is a run first offense. At least that's what we can deduce from looking at where it came from in San Francisco.

In his debut game last week vs the Ravens, he notched three catches for 34 yards on four targets. He was tied for third on the team in targets with Noah Brown and Mike Boone. While Robert Woods and Nico Collins were one and two in targets last week, I think Dell will ascend that list starting this week. Word came down that Noah Brown is headed to IR, meaning he'll miss at least the next four weeks. The chemistry he and fellow rookie C.J. Stroud have developed is palpable. From working out together, to attending UH games together, these two seem to have a nice bond already.

Woods is a solid vet two years removed from an ACL injury. Collins was a third rounder with size who hasn't done a whole lot. Dell is easily the most exciting option at receiver this team has. John Metchie III was expected to be the next guy up. Unfortunately, cancer had him take a backseat, until now. Metchie is back at practice this week, so a debut is imminent. He could potentially challenge for more playing time, but it may take him some time to get used to things and get going again.

As far as my statistical prediction for his season, he only needs to average four catches for 67 yards per game, and get a touchdown every two to three games for the remainder of the season. Given Brown being out the next few games, Metchie not quite being up to speed, Woods being an older player on a short-term deal, and Collins not really being what everyone thought he could be, it leaves things wide open for Dell to step up.

Playmakers come in all shapes and sizes. Levon Kirkland was a 300-pound middle linebacker in a 3-4. Doug Flutie led teams to playoff wins as a 5'9 quarterback. In football, size matters. The bigger, stronger guys normally win out. When it comes to receiving and returns, you want speed, quickness, and agility. Dell has that in spades. Add his competitive nature and chemistry with his quarterback and you have a recipe for a star in the making. I know I'm not the only one hoping the Texans continue Tank-ing.

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