Weekly Rockets report

Wins over Knicks, Hawks and Jazz highlight a solid week

Eric Gordon seems to have gotten out of his scoring slump. Rockets.com

Well, last week was neat, huh?

The Rockets retired their 22 year old reputation as the only major sports team among the big three in Houston to ever claim a championship last Wednesday, after the Houston Astros won game 7 of one of the most legendary World Series battles in history.

Fitting, it would seem, that the Astros would share a similarly difficult climb as the 1993-1994 Rockets. Both teams faced two game 7 elimination games on their road to glory, with the second of each being the deciding game for the championship. So while that Rockets team may have created Clutch City, the Astros certainly lived up to the name.

With the baseball season having drawn to a close and the Texans season seemingly having taken a sharp turn down skid row, the spotlight now focuses on a Rockets team that has jumped out to a great 8-3 record to start the season. Here’s what you may have missed this past week in case you were off celebrating.

Game Nine: Rockets at New York Knicks (W, 119-97)

Overshadowed by game 7 of the World Series, the Rockets stumbled out of the gate at the beginning of the game. The Knicks held the lead throughout most of the first quarter and it seemed like there was a possibility the team would drop its third straight contest. Ryan Anderson kicked off the 2nd quarter with 7 straight points to seize a lead that would never be relinquished. With the lead as high as 29 points late in the 3rd, the Rockets gave the city of Houston enough of a point cushion to confidently turn away and watch the Astros clinch their first ever World Series Championship. James Harden dropped 31 points, followed by Anderson’s 21.

Game Ten: Rockets at Atlanta Hawks (W, 119-104)

The Atlanta Hawks drained the first shot of the game, which would turn out to be the only lead the one win team would hold all night. The Rockets blurred by the Hawks with a season-high 28 fast break points and added 16 three pointers. Eric Gordon would pour in 20 points to go with 4 steals and 5 assists. Harden would add 29 points and 11 assists. As Hawks shooting guard Kent Bazemore so eloquently put it, “They just shoot the crap out of the ball.”

Game Eleven: Rockets vs Utah Jazz (W, 137-110)

My first game at Toyota Center this season did not disappoint at all. The Jazz started hot on a 10-2 run, and that was about it. By the fourth minute of the first quarter, the Rockets had seized the lead, and it would remain that way for the entire game. Harden was absolutely white-hot on his way to a career high 56 point outing. He would chip in 13 assists as well, and Gordon drained 6 three pointers as part of his 20 point performance. At one point in the beginning of the third, the Rockets had led by as much as 32 points. This game was never a contest.

Takeaways:

  • It certainly looks like both the Rockets and Harden have found their tempo. In the past four games, the Rockets have averaged 120.5 points per game, while Harden alone has averaged 36.3. The past three games have been blowouts, with the average point differential of 21.3. The Rockets’ reserves have seen plenty of floor time, as a result.

  • Gordon’s sluggish 3-point shooting start seems to officially be a thing of the past. In the past four games, he’s fired .450 from beyond the arc, going 18-40.

  • The Rockets have been road warriors to start the season. Seven of their first eleven games have been away from the Toyota center, and of those the Rockets have won six.

Rockets Player of the Week (not named James Harden)

Luc Mbah a Moute. His defense is always great to see, and in the past three games he’s racked up seven steals. He understands his role, and the more I watch him, the more it looks like Daryl Morey may have found a newer model of Shane Battier. Mbah a Moute has been great off the bench to start the season.

Looking Ahead:

The Rockets finally get a little bit of rest before they take on Cleveland on Thursday, followed by yet another contest with Memphis at home Saturday and an away tilt Sunday against the Pacers. The Cavaliers have been one of the most disappointing teams to start the season, but you can never count out Lebron James. Memphis has outscored the Rockets 201-179, resulting in two of the Rockets’ three losses, so it’s tough to assume that this will be an easy contest. Indiana sits at a .500 record on the season behind Victor Oladipo’s 24 point per game average, but are 23rd in the league in points allowed. The Rockets have shown this past week that they’re starting to find their rhythm, and I expect a 2-1 week on the horizon at worst.

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Keep an eye on Alex Bowman this weekend. Image via: Wiki Commons.

For the first time since July 1984, NASCAR returns to one of its most popular cities in Nashville, Tennessee for the inaugural Ally 400 at Nashville Super Speedway. This track is a 1 1/3rd mile concrete oval that was dormant for nearly ten years and was only used as a testing facility. So it came as a bit of a surprise last season when it was announced that this track would be getting a date. For a lot of drivers, this will be a brand new racetrack, but we will see practice and qualifying, so that will be a huge help for the newcomers that haven't raced here before. Back when the Xfinity and Trucks ran here, this track featured a lot of first time winners. Back in 2008, future NASCAR champion Brad Keselowski shocked the world by jumping in Dale Jr's car and capturing his first win here. There will be a lot of veterans like Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick who have plenty of experience at this track, but it will be tough to compare. It should be fun with everyone coming into this race with minimal knowledge.

Last week, Kyle Larson continued his hot streak by winning the All-Star Race. Overall, while Larson and his Hendrick teammates probably enjoyed the race, the feedback from crews and fans was less than positive. As I was walking through the garage area and talking to a few crew members, a lot of them were very critical of the 450 horsepower motor and the tall spoiler to try and keep the cars bunched up. When I asked one of the crew-members what he thought about the package he told me, "Oh it's awful. The track is terrible, the package makes it impossible to pass and it's super hot out here." On green flag runs, it was the same as it ever was as the lead car would pretty much take off and the only time there was really any "pack racing" it came after there were restarts. The whole race was well-intentioned and the fans showed up as it was nearly a capacity crowd, but the whole thing just didn't make any sense. From the start time being in the nearly 100 degree heat to the wacky full-field invert at the end of each stage. Let's hope that next season's All-Star Race is a lot more concise.

In Silly Season news this week, Truck Series regulars GMS racing announced that they would be fielding a full-time cup series team. The team is currently owned by Allegiant Airlines CEO Maurice Gallagher and his son, Spencer, who used to drive for them in the Xfinity Series. This move seemed to come from out of nowhere as there was never any indication that this was a move they were exploring anytime soon after they turned down the opportunity to purchase Furniture Row Racing in 2019. This is certainly a great sight for the sport as there will be more new teams on the track and with their close relationship with Chevy, it wouldn't be a surprise if they step in and help this team become competitive. The favorite to drive their car has to be 2020 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion Sheldon Creed. He has easily been their best driver in trucks, and it would make the most sense for him to get the promotion.

This week at Nashville, the driver that I have winning is Alex Bowman. Now while this is a brand new racetrack and he has a grand total of zero starts here, this track suits his driving style perfectly. With the inclusion of this track, there are now four tracks with a concrete surface. Nashville, Bristol, Dover and Martinsville. At the three of the tracks they have run at, he has shown a lot of speed, including a victory at Dover this season and a top ten finish at Bristol. This is also a track where crew-chief Greg Ives said Bowman has gravitated towards during testing. In an interview with Sirius XM Ives was quoted as saying "we used to have a lot of fun testing there," so this is clearly a track that they both enjoy going to. Another big factor going into Sunday will be just how fast these Hendrick Motorsports cars are, they have finished 1-2 over the last four points races. He has watched his teammates Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott have immense success, and now this week I think he is due for a third win of the season. Look for the bright purple #48 Chevy to go to victory lane this week at Nashville.

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