Much needed

The Rockets report, brought to you by APG&E: Rockets snap four-game losing streak with win over Timberwolves in Houston 117-111

If the NBA had a dictionary for overused terms, a picture of this Rockets boxscore would fall under "must-win". There was no universe in which the Rockets could lose this game and then go into the Staples Center with any chance of competing. They just wouldn't have the confidence to be able to do anything against one of the league's premier title contenders.

So it was good for Houston that James Harden remembered he was James Harden and absolutely dominated in the way we've all become accustomed to him doing. Harden's slump was indicative of the team's brief identity problem. It's not that the team didn't have an identity, it's that they forgot what it was for four games. The Rockets have settled into the fact that they aren't going to win games on the defensive glass or playing with size. They're identity is switching everything effectively on defense, driving and kicking to open shooters all around the floor, and generating transition offense to make up for what's not present in the middle.

Eric Gordon's return was huge tonight as an emotional boost for Houston. Gordon only scored 16 points on 15 field goal attempts, but his aggressiveness to take open three-pointers and drive to the rim, both in the halfcourt and in transition, is exactly what the Rockets needed.

Tonight, Houston displayed that with their three-point shooting finally settling into place (15-38 or 39.5% from downtown) and forcing 18 Minnesota turnovers. For Houston to try and get a top-three seed to close the season, they have to recognize that this is what they are and not deviate from it. This means they can't hesitate from three-point range like they've been prone to the past week or settle into half-court rock fight with opponents. They have to play like the Rockets.

Star of the game: For the first time in a very long time, James Harden looked like James Harden. Harden logged 37 points, 7 assists, 4 rebounds, 2 steals, and 1 block on 11 of 19 shooting from the field, 5 of 10 shooting from three-point range, and 10 of 14 shooting from the free throw line. He looked confident, his body language was as good as it's ever been, he was engaged on both ends of the floor, and his shots finally started to fall. He looked like the perennial MVP candidate the Rockets have touted out there for the past three seasons.

Honorable mention: Although Harden was clearly the better player, Russell Westbrook was also very good for Houston tonight. Westbrook tallied 27 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds, and 4 steals on 11 of 17 shooting from the field and 5 of 6 shooting from three-point range. His energy was much needed when the Rockets were trying to finally take a lead over the Timberwolves in the third quarter and eventually was able to lead Houston over the finish line in the final two minutes.

Key moment: The key moment for Houston was clearly the final 3:06 where Houston went on a 14-3 run to take the lead over Minnesota and shift the momentum back in their favor. Russell Westbrook scored or assisted on 10 of the 14 final points, including the Austin Rivers three-pointer that ended up giving Houston the lead. It honestly felt like the Rockets had been woken up from a four-game slumber.

Up next: The Rockets travel to Los Angeles at 9:30 p.m. on Thursday to take on the Lakers.

Most Popular

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome

Listen Live

The power struggle continues. Photo by Getty Images.

Boy, with the recent blizzard of negative publicity – searing magazine cover stories with headlines blasting "Houston Has a Problem" and "The Chaplain Who Won a Power Struggle and Plunged a Franchise into Chaos" – I'll bet the Houston Texans wished they had a seasoned, respected and award-winning media director to handle damage control.

Oh yeah, that's exactly what they had in Amy Palcic, but she was fired last year. Reason: she "wasn't the right culture fit."

What exactly is the Houston Texans culture these days? Apparently the culture is players disliking and distrusting the team executive specifically charged with managing the team's culture. It's that same executive whose resume has more fudging than the Keebler Cookie Company. It's that executive who's accused of authorizing illegal practices and hiring private eyes to follow players in their private activities. It's that executive who's accused of intimidating employees who trash him to the media and threatening to sue media outlets. It's that executive who imposes his religious fervor on lower-ranked employees. It's that executive who has created a culture where gifted quarterback Deshaun Watson is said to want a trade out of Houston.

That executive is Jack Easterby - the backstabbing, butt-smooching BS'er who seems to have a Svengali hold on Texans chairman Cal McNair.

If it comes down to one stays and one has to go between Watson and Easterby … hmmm, let's see. Deshaun Watson threw for 4,823 yards and 33 touchdowns last season. Jack Easterby, zero and zero.

Last week, Texans legend Andre Johnson, who usually speaks up less than the magician Teller, tweeted: "Since Jack Easterby walk into the building nothing good has happened. For some reason someone can't seem to see what's going on. Pathetic!!!"

That "someone" would be Texans chairman Cal McNair, who continues to support Easterby despite all the accusations and revelations hurled Easterby's way.

By the way, Easterby has not sued any media outlet that is publishing stories about his bullying and sneakiness. And he won't sue because that last thing he wants is to be put in a witness chair and swear to tell the truth.

In the past 12 months, with Easterby sticking his nose in McNair's ear, the Texans have managed to alienate and infuriate superstar Watson: trade All-Pro receiver DeAndre Hopkins and create a losing, uninspired clubhouse that has favorite son J.J. Watt wanting a trade to leave his beloved Houston.

It's not like Easterby is some mad genius who somehow produces spectacular results despite his unorthodox tactics. The Texans finished 2020 with a disastrous 4-12 record, with little to show for it, not even a top draft pick to honor their futility. The Texans are clearly in need of divine intervention, and not from huckster Easterby, whose degree is in sports management from Newberry College. Easterby is only dimples and wavy hair short of being a TV preacher.

You can't deny that Easterby is inspiration. He recently inspired a public protest on the sidewalk outside NRG Stadium and signs swaying over Southwest Freeway with the same message: #FireJackEasterby. Watson asked his supporters not to attend the rally due to COVID precaution.

Then there's the case of Deshaun Watson v. Cal McNair.

Watson was born into an economically disadvantaged family and has worked for, and deserves, every penny he is paid. He is a champion.

Cal McNair found the Houston Texans under his Christmas tree in 2018 after his father Texans original owner Bob McNair died.

Watson is an extremely bright and sensitive man who is deeply involved in social issues off the field. Last year, during the summer of racial upheaval in America, he led the charge to have the name of a former slave owner removed from a building on his alma mater Clemson's campus.

McNair hardly ever speaks in public and his stumbling, confused performance at a press conference to announce the hire of general manager Nick Caserio showed why. It's rare when a team owner has to apologize after making what should have been a happy statement promising fans a better future. However, if a stage production of the Beverly Hillbillies ever goes to Broadway, we've got our Jethro.

Many times when a player gets into a public spat with a team owner, it's a dumb jock player vs. the super-smart businessman who owns a billion-dollar company. It's usually over money. And the public typically thinks, "just get rid of the ungrateful, overpaid and greedy player."

Not this time. Watson already got his – four years at $156 million. This is a war of morality. Watson is the hero here, McNair the fool being played by Easterby, who like Cassius is Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar, "has a lean and hungry look."

If it came to a public vote between Watson and McNair (Easterby), Watson's landslide win would rival Kim Jong-Un in North Korea … or LeAnn Rimes on The Masked Singer.

It's unfair to call McNair and Easterby polarizing figures because polarizing implies that there are two sides to the issue.

There is only one side. Houston loves Deshaun Watson and wants McNair to sell the team, right after he fires Easterby.

Seemingly the only defender rushing to Easterby's side is a Twitter account allegedly owned by Easterby under a fake name. If it is a burner account, Easterby has a whole lot of faith in himself.

Although football insiders say that Watson is all but out the door at NRG Stadium, there is still a chance that McNair could save the day, and do what is needed to keep Watson in Texans' gear. And that would be to fire Easterby. Now.

Sadly, given McNair's repeated pledges of loyalty to Easterby and insistence that criticism of Easterby is unwarranted, Watson's leaving Houston gets more likely each day. Andre Johnson had it right … "pathetic!!!"

Three exclamation points.

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome