The Houston Rockets hosted the Dallas Mavericks Monday night looking to notch their first win of the season series after dropping the previous two. The Rockets leaned on the 3-point shot as they have all season to run away with lead early and held on throughout to secure the blowout victory. Houston remains first in the Southwest Division and fifth in the Western Conference.
Monday night proved that with their continuously improving health and depth the Rockets are growing tougher and tougher to beat as the season wears on. While favoring a tweaked shoulder from Saturday's game, James Harden remained effective by distributing around the arc. His teammates made the most of their opportunities, nailing 16 3-pointers en route to the 16-point victory. Houston finished with big nights from Gerald Green (19 points), Eric Gordon (18 points), Chris Paul (17 points), and Kenneth Faried (17 points).
While the game itself lacked drama, the subplot of Harden's consecutive 30+ point game streak was anything but. It was apparent throughout the night that The Beard was far less interested in the streak as he was the win and it showed through his 7 assists. It wasn't until late in the game when the game was all but decided that Harden chose to keep the streak alive. With less than a minute left, he buried a three to continue the streak, pulling him within one game of second place for the longest such streak in NBA history.
CP3 passes the Glove
Chris Paul turned in a promising 17 point, 11 assist night along with a 5-10 performance from beyond the arc. In doing so, he passed Gary Payton for eighth all time on the NBA assist leaderboard. Paul has looked much more like last season's version of himself in the past two games, which will prove pivotal to any run the Rockets may go on after the all-star break.
Rockets Player of the Game
James Harden: 31 points, 7 assists, 8 rebounds, 5 steals
Mavericks Player of the Game
Luka Doncic: 21 points, 8 assists, 10 rebounds
As the dust settles and the buyout market picture sharpens into focus, one name to keep an eye on is Markieff Morris. Having been bought out by the Pelicans after being traded to from the Wizards, the 6' 10" power forward is expected to choose a new team sometime this week. The Rockets, Lakers, and Raptors have each expressed interest. Morris is a versatile big that brings both range and defense that could help spell starting forward PJ Tucker, as well as space the floor for easier driving attempts for Harden, Paul, and Gordon.
The Rockets travel to Minnesota to take on the Timberwolves on Wednesday at 7 p.m. central.
“Another one!”- DJ Khaled
That's the first thing that came to mind when I heard the news of Tytus Howard being shut down for the season because of a knee injury. They've had more injuries on the offensive line this season than Nick Cannon has Father's Day cards. Almost every member of the offensive line has spent time on the injury report. Howard went down in the same game in which Juice Scruggs was finally on the active roster. He missed the first 10 games due to a hamstring injury. The irony of next man up has never been so in your face.
The other thing that came to mind was the soap opera As the World Turns.
Howard had just signed an extension this offseason. So did Laremy Tunsil and Shaq Mason. They drafted Juice Scruggs, and signed a few guys too. Those moves, along with other holdovers, were expected to fill out the depth chart. Then a rash of injuries struck. At one point, only one of the original five guys expected to start was playing! In fact, they beat the Steelers 30-6 with that backup offensive line!
One can't have the expectation of backups to perform as good as the starters. They're professionals and are on an NFL roster for a reason. However, the talent gap is evident. One thing coaching, technique, and preparation can't cover is lack of ability or talent. The Texans have done a good job of navigating the injury minefield this season. While the Howard injury will hurt, I have faith in the guys there still.
As of this writing, the Texans are in the eighth spot in the AFC playoff picture. The Steelers, Browns, and Colts are all in front of them at the fifth through seventh spots respectfully. They've beaten the Steelers already. They play the Browns on Christmas Eve and their starting quarterback is out for the season. The Colts are relying on the ghost of Gardner Minshew to steer their ship into the last game of the season vs. the Texans with a possible playoff trip on the line. The Broncos and Bills are the two teams immediately behind them. They play the Broncos this weekend. Even though they're on a hot streak, this is the same team that got 70 put on them by the Dolphins. The Bills are the old veteran boxer who still has some skill, but is now a stepping stone for up & comers.
To say this team should still make the playoffs would be an understatement in my opinion. I believe in them and what they have going on more than I believe in the teams I listed above. That includes teams around them in the playoff race that aren't on their schedule. The one thing that scares me a little moving forward is the sustainability of this line. When guys get up in age as athletes, it becomes harder to come back from injuries. The injuries also tend to occur more frequently when it's a knee, foot, ankle, shoulder, elbow, or another body part critical to blocking for C.J. Stroud.
I know they just re-signed three of those guys and drafted one they believe can be a starter, but depth and contingency plans are a way of life in the NFL. We see how important depth was this season. Why not plan ahead? Don't be surprised if the Texans spend valuable draft capital on the offensive line. By valuable, I'm talking about first through third or fourth rounders. Those are prime spots to draft quality offensive lineman. Whether day one starters or quality depth, those are the sweet spots. The only guy on the two deep depth chart for this offensive line that wasn't drafted in one of those rounds was George Fant, who was an undrafted rookie free agent. While I highly doubt they spend any significant free agency dollars on the group, I'm not totally ruling it out.
The bottom line is, this team will be okay on the line for the remainder of this season. The only way that doesn't happen, more injuries. Stroud is clearly the franchise guy. Protecting that investment is a top priority. I don't care about a number one receiver, or a stud stable or singular running back if the quarterback won't have time to get them the ball. If the pilot can't fly the plane, you know what happens. So making sure he's happy, healthy, and has a great crew is of the utmost importance.