Rockets Report

Three keys to the Rockets Resurgence

Clint Capela has raised his game. Jason Miller

In the past month, the Rockets have gone from a disappointing afterthought to wading chest-deep in the playoff race. That spark leading them to the fifth seed in the Western Conference came at what seemed like the least likely moment as well, as Chris Paul and James Ennis had both gone down with separate injuries. Instead of plummeting further beyond the 10-11 record they entered the month of December with, however, the Rockets ripped off a 13-5 run. Here are three key factors to Houston's resurgence.

Clint Capela has become feral

During this stretch we've watched Clint Capela kick it into an entirely different gear. He's crashed the boards far more efficiently and it's paid off. Capela went from averaging a respectable 11.8 rebounds per game in the first 20 games of the season to 14.3 throughout the Rockets resurgence and an unreal 17.6 rebounds in the last 6 contests. Since December, Capela has registered four 20+ rebound games. He's become an absolute force at an area that Houston was severely lacking in to begin the season and has been a huge reason the Rockets have turned around their season.

The Rockets are finally healthy

It seems contradictory to start by talking about losing one of the Rockets' stars to injury and then talk about how healthy they are, but it's true. While losing Chris Paul hasn't helped, Houston welcomed the return of center Nene, as well as point guard Brandon Knight. The injury issues also le\d to the call up of Danuel House from the G-league who has seemingly become this year's Gerald Green-esque "diamond in the rough" find. Austin Rivers has also been serviceable since his signing in late December, averaging 13.5 points per game, to include a 21-point performance Saturday night. The health and subsequent contributions since have played a big role in turning around Houston's season.

James ever-loving Harden

What Harden has done in the past month is uncharted territory. He averaged 36.4 points per game for the entire month of December, to go with 7.9 assists per game. He joined Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Allen Iverson as the only players to ever string together five 40-point performances in a row, and is still currently setting the record for most 35-point, 5-assist games with 10 at the moment. It has been unreal throughout, with his most recent act of mediocrity defiance coming in the form of a game winning overtime dagger from three over two defenders at Golden State last Thursday night. It's hard to assume that a run of brilliance like this can run throughout the remainder of the season, but it is exactly what the Rockets needed to save their season.

Looking ahead

The Rockets have a fantastic week of home cooking starting with a Monday matchup against the Western Conference-leading Denver Nuggets, followed by a Wednesday tilt against the Eastern Conference-leading Milwaukee Bucks. Friday the Rockets host the Cleveland Cavaliers before a quick road game Sunday against the Orlando Magic.

Eric Gordon's absence due to a knee injury could play a factor in these matchups, but it's really hard to bet against James Harden for any stretch of time during this current rampage. I expect Houston to at least split the first two games and sweep the rest of the week.

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Kelvin Sampson has the Cougars rolling. Bob Levey/Getty Images

The final regular season game for the Houston Cougars men's basketball team took place Sunday, March 7th in the Fertitta Center.

There was some controversy as the game was initially scheduled to take place in Memphis, but was moved to Houston due to a COVID-19 related issues. The contest was originally supposed to happen on Feb. 14 in Houston but was postponed due to the aforementioned COVID issues in the Memphis program.

The American Athletic Conference stated that if a game had to be postponed it would be played at the venue of the team that did not have the COVID-19 issues.

Memphis was not happy about the relocation.

"In a year full of challenges, we are greatly disappointed for our players and fans that our final home game of the season could not remain in Memphis," Memphis Director of Athletics Laird Veatch said. "This is especially sad for our senior managers and students in band, cheer and pom, who will not be able to celebrate their last experience in FedExForum.

Although unfortunate for Memphis and their fans, it did give Houston one extra home game, and a chance to have their true senior day.

Seniors Dejon Jarreau, Justin Gorham and Brison Gresham were honored during a pregame ceremony in front of a socially distanced crowd at the Fertitta Center.

There were few dry eyes on the court including head coach Kelvin Sampson who was emotional during the ceremony.

Those emotions quickly changed from bittersweet to confusion as Memphis jumped out to an early lead in the first half.

Head coach Penny Hardaway had his Tigers play trap style defense which lead to many double teams on Quentin Grimes and Jarreau, forcing other players to step up.

This strategy worked as Memphis was able to force the Cougars to make multiple turnovers early on.

Houston had a four point lead at halftime, and the game continued to be a back and forth contest until the end.

Houston was up 64-61 with nine seconds left to go in the game, and Memphis had one shot to tie the game.

Sophomore guard Lester Quinones missed a 3-pointer, but Houston couldn't secure the rebound to put the game away.

Instead, the ball bounced out to Boogie Ellis who hit his lone 3-pointer of the game with 1.7 seconds left to tie it at 64.

Coach Sampson was able to call a final timeout with 1.7 seconds left in the game.

For the final play, he drew up an inbounds play that had been tried in practice, but has never been performed in a game.

"I don't think it's ever worked," UH forward Justin Gorham said.

From the opposite side of the court, Marcus Sasser inbounded the ball via a bounce pass to Tramon Mark near center court.

Mark was double-teamed by the Houston logo and threw up a prayer.

That prayer resulted in a bank shot off of the backboard to win the game 67-64 as time expired.

"To do that on senior day for those guys, that just makes it even better," Mark said after the game on Twitter.

It was a tremendous way to end the regular season for the Cougars as they gear up and head to the AAC tournament in Fort Worth.

Before Houston headed to the locker room to celebrate, Sampson had some final words for Cougars fans.

"Never give up on your Coogs!"

MOVING UP: With this victory, Houston has moved up to the 7th ranked team in the country and are looking to secure a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

UP NEXT: March is in full swing, and the Cougars will be the No. 2 seed in the AAC tournament. They will face the winner of Tulsa and Tulane on Friday, March 12th at 6 p.m CT

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