Rockets lose 121-111, Harden ties Wilt

3-pointers from Rockets loss to Timberwolves

In their final game before the all-star break the Houston Rockets traveled to Minnesota to take on the Minnesota Timberwolves Wednesday night. It was a back and forth battle between a T-Wolves team strong in the interior and a Rockets team more comfortable raining shots from distance. Minnesota would turn the tide late in the third with key defensive stops, defeating Houston 121-111 behind an impressive showing from rookie Josh Okogie. Houston is now 33-24, first in the Southwest Division, and fifth in the Western Conference.

Strength versus strength

The Timberwolves are big. The Rockets can shoot. Wednesday ultimately came down to who was the saltiest on defense because very little was done to challenge each other's strengths. Houston fired off 53 three pointers in a contest where they were bludgeoned in the paint 70-36. The difference is that the Rocket's shots weren't falling, shooting a collective 35.8% from behind the line. Poor shooting, coupled with timely defense from the opponent more often results in defeat.

Josh Okogie

The Timberwolves rookie drew one of the most difficult assignments in the NBA when he lined up across from James Harden Wednesday night. Undeterred, Okogie went to work and came up clutch late in the third with five straight points to take the lead. Okogie immediately set up on the other end after burying a three, and as Harden lurched back for his trademark step back 3-pointer, Okogie lunged forward and stuffed the shot before the ball left Hardens hands. Shot clock violation. Turnover. While Harden still finished the night with another eye-popping scoring performance, it was obvious that play was the turning point from which the Timberwolves built their momentum to finish the game with a victory.

Streak watch

These days the first question Rockets fans have is whether or not the team won. Immediately following is whether or not Harden scored 30 points to continue his unreal streak. Harden started the night off slow, scoring only five points in the first quarter. He shook off the slow start to the tune of 15 in the second, 11 in the third, and 11 in the fourth. Harden finished with 42 points on the night, extending his streak of consecutive 30+ point performances to 31. The streak ties Wilt Chamberlain for second most in NBA history, behind Wilt Chamberlain's other unworldly record of 65.

Rockets player of the game:

James Harden: 42 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds

Timberwolves player of the game:

Jeff Teague: 27 points, 12 assists, 3 rebounds

Next up


Nothing for a week. Following the All Star break, Houston travels to Los Angeles to take on the Lakers next Thursday at 9:30 pm.

So how pumped are you about this Rockets' season so far? Are you willing to fake it a little? Their 5-3 start is OK, but nothing to fire up the masses.

The Rockets are going to be very good again this season. Somehow that's probably part of the problem with the relative apathy for this team. Other than within the Rockets organization, or among the most loyal and hopeful fans, the Rockets are not considered a first tier NBA championship contender.

Russell Westbrook makes them a more compelling game to game watch. Other than that (and The Brodie is a big that), the Rockets have a bit of same old same old feel to them. Their same old same old isn't bad. It's quite good. James Harden is going to keep putting up astounding stats. The Rockets are going to keep firing up three point shots like no other. They will win plenty of games. But does it excite you on a regular basis? Even with the Warriors out of the way this season, until or unless the Rockets are in at least the Western Conference Final, they're not going to be vigorously embraced as a title threat. That's a tough standard. But it's where the Rockets are.

Astros making off-season news

It's still kind of letdown mode from the Astros losing the last two games of the World Series. Plus the off season Hot Stove of transactions isn't even warming yet, as we wait to see where Gerrit Cole signs to pitch for the next several years. Among many other moves.

Anyone can understand a father wanting to set up his son going forward. UH basketball Head Coach Kelvin Sampson has done a stupendous job rebuilding the Cougars, so in his new contract was able to have his son Kellen designated as "head coach in waiting." Jim Crane is the lead owner of the Astros, so we should all grasp his moving son Jared into Astros' business operations, and moving out Reid Ryan in the process. I now note that I don't know Reid really at all on a personal level, and not all that deeply on a professional level. While it's the on field results that by far most shape the image of the franchise, when the Astros were a joke in this city, bringing on the relentlessly upbeat, approachable, and classy son of Nolan as President of Business Operations was a notable step in the Astros' return to relevance. With Reid reassigned, in a non-shocking non-coincidence, Nolan is out as an Astros Special Advisor.

Key stretch for Texans after off week

Allow me a brief semi-screed about the Texans' open week. Most of the sports world refers to it as a "bye" week. Most of the sports world is wrong! A bye is when an individual or team advances in a tournament bracket without having to play. If for the first time in franchise history the Texans finish as one of the top two seeds in the AFC, they will earn a bye week past the Wild Card round directly into the Divisional round of the playoffs. A week during the season when a team has no game scheduled is not a bye week. It's an open week, or an off week, or a week without a game. It's not a bye week! I feel a little better for that, thanks.

As for the Texans, their open week (!) finds them in good position in the AFC South. At 6-3, they'll pick up tackling the defining stretch of their regular season schedule. Deshaun Watson gives them hope in any game anywhere, but it's unlikely the Texans win two road playoff games to get to the Super Bowl. They need the playoff bye which means one home win from a spot in AFC Championship game. There are two division leaders ahead of the Texans in the AFC. The Ravens are 6-2, the Patriots are 7-1. The Texans play both within their next three games: at Baltimore, home vs New England. Those challenges are sandwiched around a home game with the Colts. Indy is behind the Texans at 5-3 (before the Colts play the dismal Dolphins Sunday) but with a win at NRG Stadium would own the AFC South tiebreaker. With a loss in Baltimore they're probably Texans Toast with regard to securing a bye. With a win they'd have a real shot at bit, winning tiebreakers over both the Ravens and the Chiefs.

SEC showdown

College football's latest regular season game of the year has LSU at Alabama Saturday afternoon. The Crimson Tide has rolled the Tigers in their last eight meetings. Two of the last three years LSU didn't even score.This season's Alabama's defense isn't up to usual elite Nick Saban unit standards, LSU has an explosive modern up-tempo attack for the first time, well, ever. With a strong showing and a win Tiger quarterback Joe Burrow can about cinch up the Heisman Trophy. LSU's only Heisman winner did it 60 years ago, Billy Cannon in 1959. Entirely gratuitous follow up fact!: Syracuse won the National Championship that season, beating Texas in the Cotton Bowl.

Buzzer Beaters

1. I'll take LSU +6 ½ 2. Toronto or Seattle Sunday? MLS Cup matchup! 3. Best rarely used synonyms for steal: Bronze-snaffle Silver-purloin Gold-filch





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