THE ROCKETS REPORT

Win streak comes to an end, but Rockets still roll through 3-1 week

James Harden and Chris Paul said goodbye to their winning streak. Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Another week down, another week of dominating performance from the Rockets. After dismantling the Thunder and Bucks, Houston’s latest winning streak met its end at 17 games against the Toronto Raptors on Friday night. The Rockets would quickly recover, rest MVP candidate James Harden, and obliterate the Mavericks on Sunday afternoon. In spite of the loss, Houston increased its conference lead against the Golden State Warriors to 1.5 games and maintains the best overall record in the NBA.

Game 63: Rockets at Oklahoma City Thunder (W, 122-112)

Houston fans were looking forward to this rematch since the end of December, when the Thunder defeated a Rockets squad sans Harden. At full strength, Houston weathered a turnover-riddled first half while maintaining a healthy lead over OKC. Harden was less than polished, commiting 10 turnovers on his own. Chris Paul picked up the slack, however, leading the team with 25 points overall. Harden finished with 23, while Ariza finished with 15 of his own.

Game 64: Rockets at Milwaukee Bucks (W, 110-99)

With their winning streak reaching 16 games, the Rockets arrived in Milwaukee the following night to take on another playoff eligible squad. Much like the night before, however, a seemingly competitive matchup turned into yet another cruising victory. The Rockets looked more than anything as if they were just going through the motions while they maintained a double-digit lead for most of the game. Harden led with 26 points, and Eric Gordon followed with 18. Chris Paul chipped in 16 and 11 assists.

Game 65: Rockets at Toronto Raptors (L, 108-105)

After a day of rest, the Rockets headed north of the border to extend try and even the season series against the Raptors, while keeping their streak intact. From the outset, Houston found itself in what has lately become unfamiliar territory: trailing in a game. Not only were the Rockets trailing, they were basically being run out of building. With Toronto’s lead ballooning all the way to 19 at one point, Houston knew it needed to get to work. The second half of the game saw a much more focused Rockets squad, and Harden set to work chipping away at the Raptors’ lead. Clutch shot after clutch shot drew Houston to within one point with 10 seconds left in regulation, but a pair of key free throws from Toronto sent the Rockets home with a broken streak. Harden finished the night with 40 points, while no other Rocket scored higher than 14.

Game 66: Rockets at Dallas Mavericks (W, 105-82)

The Mavericks didn’t deserve to be the Rockets’ next opponent, following their first defeat since late January. Whoever Houston played was going to bear the brunt of a frustrated and refocused Houston squad, and even with Harden resting Sunday afternoon Dallas was easily outmatched. Gordon covered for Harden’s absence, leading the team with 26 points, while Paul added 24 points and 12 assists. This was the fourth and final matchup against Dallas this season and the win made this the second year in a row that Houston has swept the Mavericks regular season matchups.

Looking Ahead:

Monday the Rockets will see the Spurs at home for the third matchup of the season between the two teams. Following that, Houston hosts the Clippers on Thursday before heading out on the road next weekend against the Pelicans and the Timberwolves.

The Spurs have proven to be an easy out this season, but I’ve seen too much of Gregg Popovich's sorcery over the years to ever feel 100% confident with any San Antonio matchup. The Clippers should be an easy win, unlike Saturday’s contest against New Orleans--provided Anthony Davis plays. The Timberwolves have been outclassed by the Rockets all season, and this season series finally should prove no different. In all, I expect Houston to continue churning through their schedule to close out the last few weeks of the regular season.


 

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Rootes began writing The Winning Game Plan last March. Photo via: NRG Park/Facebook

Football players, coaches and general managers have come and gone, but only one person has been running the business side of the Texans, well, even before they were the Texans. Jamey Rootes has been President of the Houston Texans since 1999, when an NFL team in Houston was still just a gleam in owner Bob McNair's eyes. That's before the team adopted the name "Texans" in 2000, before there was NRG Stadium, which opened as Reliant Stadium in 2000, and before they became serial champs of the AFC South, six titles between 2011-2019.

The precise date was Oct. 6, 1999 when NFL owners voted 29-0 to award the NFL's 32nd and newest franchise to Houston. Not only that, Houston was awarded the 2004 Super Bowl. Rootes, 34 years old with no NFL experience, had his work cut out for him. Before taking the job in Houston, Rootes was team president, general manager and CEO of selling peanuts and popcorn for the Columbus Crew of Major League Soccer.

Major League Soccer, with all due respect, is not nearly a national obsession like the National Football League.

"I wasn't intimidated," Rootes said. "There's a quote that I love, 'Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain.' I've always been a purpose-driven person. As for the step up to the NFL, I went from knowing nothing at the start of my time in Columbus to five years later thinking, OK, I've got this sports thing down. Actually, I had a very significant reduction in my responsibilities in Houston. When I was in Columbus, I ran the stadium, I ran the team's business, I was the general manager so I did the talent side of it, too. When I came to Houston, all I had to do was the business, so that was great."

Rootes has captured his remarkable journey from the soccer team at Clemson to grad school at Indiana University to the business world at IBM and Proctor & Gamble to the Clemson Crew, to ultimately being named President of the Houston Texans in his new book, The Winning Game Plan: A Proven Leadership Playbook for Continuous Business Success, available next week.

I've known Rootes from his day one with the Texans, but I still had to ask: everybody knows what the general manager does, and what the head coach does. What exactly does the President of an NFL team worth $3.3 billion do?

"I like to use the parallel of a pharmaceutical company to describe my job. There are two sides to that company. First you put scientists in one building and you leave them alone. They create products, which is what our football team is. The football side has a coach and general manager and all the people who prepare the team to play on Sunday. But getting that product to market is done by the business side, traditional business disciplines. Those are the things that fall to me. Basically, everything between the white lines is run by the football side. Everything outside of those lines, I do," Rootes said.

Between 1999 and 2002, when the Texans played their first game (let the record show the Texans defeated the Dallas Cowboy, 19-10), the team was essentially a massive start-up project. First orders of business for Rootes involved building a new stadium, developing relationships with suppliers, contractors and government officials, preparing for a Super Bowl and, most important, developing a relationship with fans.

Rootes began writing The Winning Game Plan last March, but it's really an accumulation of lessons learned and behind-the-scenes stories about building the Texans from scratch into one of the most admired and valuable franchises in all of sports.

"I've always been a meticulous note-taker. I've kept every presentation I've ever done. I took all of my notes and concepts and put those down on paper," Rootes said. "To be a good leader, you need a wild imagination. You can show me a blank piece of paper, but I don't see it as blank. To me, it's a finished product that hasn't been created yet," Rootes said.

Rootes lays out his leadership strategy in seven chapters: Are You a Manager or a Leader, Get the Right People on Your Team, Build a Winning Culture, Create Raving Fans, a Winning Playbook for Adversity and Success, Your Leadership Playbook and Play to Win.

He learned lesson No. 1 the hard way. A friend once counseled Rootes, "your staff doesn't like the way you're all up in their business, you need to back off." Rootes took that advice to heart.

"It was an epiphany. I wasn't a leader. That's when I truly began thinking about leadership. I say this all the time, I don't do anything. All I do is create an environment where exceptional people can be their very best self. I know what's going on. I'm fully informed. I leave every game day exhausted. I get there early. I do the things I need to do. I kiss babies. I shake hands. I present checks. I entertain clients. I'm dialed in. It absolutely wears me out because I love this organization so much. I am so proud of what we've been able to do for this great city of Houston."

I asked Rootes, as someone who lives for Game Day and a packed NRG Stadium, are you devastated by 2020, the year of COVID-19 and small crowds limited by Centers for Disease Control guidelines?

"I don't look at it that way. I think there's a song by 10,000 Maniacs that said, these are the days that you'll remember. I told my staff, I know you're all going through hell right now, but later on in life, you'll talk about this year. Things that are important are memorable, for the positive and those things that leave a scar. You learn from adversity and you're a better person for enduring it. Victor Frankl said 'We can discover meaning in life in three different ways, by creating a work or doing a deed, experiencing something or encountering someone, and by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.' Suffering is part of life. He should know, he survived a Nazi concentration camp," Rootes said.

H-E-B President Scott McClelland wrote the forward to The Winning Game Plan. Rootes dedicates the book to late Texans owner Bob McNair. Rootes' book is a fun read. All I kept thinking was, where was this book when I needed it? And before you buy too much into Rootes as a leader, consider that Rootes admits that he had to ask for wife Melissa's permission before he could accept the Texans job.

Personal note: I believe that a big part of leadership is the ability to keep a promise. Several years ago, I was riding my bicycle with my dog Lilly on a leash. It was the only way I could keep up with her. Well, one time Lilly saw a squirrel and pulled me off my bicycle. I tumbled a few times and rolled next to the curb. When I looked up, there was Jamey Rootes. I told him, "There's no need for you to tell anybody about this." He never said a word.

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