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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10th-ranked UH looks poised for a great season

Here's why UH could make a deep tournament run

The Coogs are off to a hot start. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Through eleven COVID stricken weeks, the University of Houston football team has mustered three wins.

The UH men's basketball season began on November 25th. It took them five days to catch up.

The Cougars came into last week ranked 17th in the nation in the AP preseason poll, the highest they've begun a season in 37 years. They took little time to establish themselves as one of the top teams in the nation.

UH shot out of the gate last week to a 3-0 start, including a double-digit win over 14th ranked Texas Tech. That, combined with a myriad of week one upsets, sent the Cougars soaring even further up the rankings.

By Monday afternoon, Houston was already one of the top 10 ranked teams in the nation.

Now it's important to note that it's incredibly early in the season, and there is plenty of time for something to go haywire. With TDECU stadium right across the street, they've had a front row seat to see just how sideways COVID can flip a season. The football team may only have 3 wins, but that's partly because they've had to postpone 5 games.

Regardless, they remain 10th in the nation at the moment, and it's no fluke. This is a solid team that has shown glimpses for the past three years.

Led offensively by sophomore guard Marcus Sasser (17.3 ppg) and Kansas transfer guard Quentin Grimes (16.0 ppg), the Cougars field a deep backcourt that has received welcome early contributions from freshman Tramon Mark (14.0 ppg) who's already earned an average of 19 minutes per game.

Speaking of minutes, UH brings one of the most important skills to the court this season: experience. In the era of one-and-done turnover among NCAA programs, the Cougars bring back four players that averaged over 20 minutes per game last season. That type of experience playing with one another and understanding the system head coach Kelvin Sampson plays could prove invaluable come tournament time.

What truly gives this team a shot though is their defense and hustle, both of which are a direct result of Sampson. They're simply relentless on defense. After finishing 11th in the nation last season only allowing 62.1 ppg, they've shown no signs of letting up. Through their first three games they've given up an average of 52 ppg. Even with double-digit leads, this is still a team diving for loose balls and mixing it up for offensive rebounds.

All of those ingredients make for a very salty, and very entertaining college basketball team. The Cougars have proved in the past three seasons that they're legitimately tournament worthy, and as the preseason American Conference champion favorite, this is a team that could—and should—have their eyes set even higher than their sweet sixteen appearance in 2019. Nothing is certain in the COVID era, however, but if they can make it through the season relatively unscathed they should be a tough out during March Madness.

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