Rocket Science

How the Rockets small-ball rotation keeps working

Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Even though the Rockets got out rebounded this past weekend by the Dallas Mavericks and Milwaukee Bucks, they still came out victorious. With the small-ball rotation, the Rockets are 8-2 against the Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, Clippers, Utah Jazz, Dallas Mavericks, and Milwaukee Bucks.

The Rockets are suffering on the rebounding side, but this offense has allowed them to score more points. They are much faster in transition because of Robert Covington and Jeff Green. This team can spread the floor more because of the space. This allows their shooters to get more open. With having Russell Westbrook on the Rockets, he can create plays for wide open shooters. As defensive zones collapse on Westbrook, he is able to get the ball out to James Harden, Ben McLemore, and PJ Tucker.

Before the All-Star break, the Rockets were averaging 118.2 points per game and their winning percentage was .630%. After the break, including bubble play, the Rockets are averaging 121 points per game and winning percentage is now .667% because of the small man rotation.

The Rockets are ranked number one in offensive scoring in the NBA. They put up 42 points in the first quarter against the Mavericks last Friday. The Rockets scored a total of 153 points to beat the Mavericks in overtime. They outscored the second highest team in the NBA, the Milwaukee Bucks, to get win on Sunday night. The Rockets went on a 14-6 run with three minutes left in the game. Their best weapon as a team, is to outscore the opposing opponent.

With the Rockets small-ball rotation, they are able wear defenses down. Harden and Westbrook are always playing Mike D'Antoni's system at a high tempo. The Rockets are ranked third in transition offense this season. This allows them win close games because the other team is tired.

Daryl Morey about a week ago cracked a joke on the Denver Nuggets big man starting five.

Morey even still feels confident about the smallball rotation. He made a great statement on July 15, 2020. He believes it is helping Westbrook a lot.

"Obviously, we're playing small but people forget that unlocked Russell a lot on the offensive end and James on the offensive end. But it also unlocked us on the defensive end. Not many guards average in their career multiple times over 10 rebounds a game," as Morey explained to Anthony Duckett of FanSided. "And the fact that Eric [Gordon] is thick and strong and James allows us to play this way. Everyone makes it sounds like it's a gimmick but really [it’s]the best way to play. And what I love about coach [D'Antoni] is that he recognizes that and is able to optimize that."

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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

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Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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