Rockets survive 119-111

3-pointers from Rockets versus Hawks

Tim Warren/Getty Images

Fresh off their weekend victory against the Golden State Warriors, the Houston Rockets geared up Monday night to take on the Atlanta Hawks. With James Harden returning to the court after missing Saturday's contest with a neck injury, the 20-40 Hawks looked to be an easy early week victory. Instead, the Rockets found themselves in a four quarter brawl. Each time the Houston built a double digits lead, Atlanta would counter with a barrage of 3s. Houston would ultimately win a game that was far more competitive than most would have expected, pushing their record to 35-25. The Rockets remain first in the Southwest Division and fifth in the Western Conference.

The Trae Young Clinic

You never want your team to be on the business end of an opponent's career high scoring night. That sentiment is exponentially more resonant when the opponent is a rookie who almost drops a 40 piece on the Rockets. Trae Young, the Hawks' first year guard out of Oklahoma, single handedly kept Atlanta competitive throughout the contest as he poured in 36 points and 8 assists. Channeling his inner Steph Curry, Young shot 8-12 from beyond the arc while attacking the rim at will. As the season has progressed, it's become clear that there were no losers following the draft day Luka Doncic/Trae Young swap between the Dallas Mavericks and Atlanta Hawks. Both rookies look poised to remain solid contributors for their respective teams.

Reason for pause

Reigning MVP James Harden's unreal streak of 32 straight 30+ point performances came to an end Monday night, as the All Star finished with a workmanlike 28 on the evening. The writing was on the wall that the streak would be ending soon now that the Rockets were finally healthy. At least that's what the injury report implies. What can't be argued, however, is a noticeable downturn in Harden's shooting since straining his shoulder earlier this month against Oklahoma City. Since then Harden has shot 16-59 (27%) from behind the arc, including a 0-10 three-point performance last night versus the Hawks. Had one of his 3s dropped, Harden's streak would still be alive. Hopefully it's something as simple as a shooting slump, but it's worth keeping an eye on either way as the season winds down.

Cold from beyond

Harden's 0-10 night from beyond the arc was concerning, but he was hardly alone in his struggle. While Atlanta was busy burying 44.7% of their shots from three point range, Houston sputtered. The 15-51 team effort was a major reason Atlanta was able to keep up with Houston. The Rockets made up for their rough shooting at the foul line however, where they connected on 26-30 free throws.

Rockets Player of the Game

James Harden: 28 points, 4 assists, 5 rebounds

Hawks Player of the Game

Trae Young: 36 points, 8 assists

Up next

The Rockets travel to Charlotte Wednesday to take on the Hornets (28-32) at 6:00 pm central.

Bob Levey/Getty Images

NBA wheeling and dealing dominated the first half of July, now it's baseball's turn with the one and now only trade deadline looming the 31st.

I've steadfastly been saying the Astros are extreeeemely likely to win the American League West and that their real race is for homefield advantage in the playoffs, with the Twins and Yankees in the American League and maybe the Dodgers for World Series homefield edge. Catching the Dodgers looks unlikely. The Astros have a better team than the Twins, and an easier remaining schedule in trying to catch the Yankees.

For at least a few days though take the Oakland A's seriously. If a team scores about as many runs as yours does, and allows about as many as yours does, that team is basically about as good as yours is. Looking at the rosters I'm not sure how it's the case but that basically is Oakland this season. Since a 19-25 start, the A's have ripped off a 36-17 stretch to enter the weekend within five and a half games of the Astros. They've kept rolling since a month ago losing their best starting pitcher (Frankie Montas) to an 80 game performance enhancing drug suspension. The Astros and A's have 11 head-to-head games left, the first three coming at Minute Maid Park Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.

The Astros can win the World Series with the club they have now, especially once Carlos Correa rejoins the lineup. They could also get bounced in the Division Series. The addition of a starting pitcher has clearly grown in need. Who is selling and what prices are the questions. The Jays' Marcus Stroman? The Tigers' Matthew Boyd? The Marlins' Caleb Smith? The Mets are on the fringe of the Wild Card picture, would they auction Noah Syndergaard? The Giants have surged into the mass of mediocrity that is the NL Wild Card pic, that would seem to make them trading Madison Bumgarner less likely. It's not as if the Astros would be the lone bidder on any of these guys.

A big move

I was off last week when news surfaced of the Russell Westbrook to the Rockets/Chris Paul and draft picks to the Thunder blockbuster trade. With it becoming official this week, some thoughts. Of course the Rockets wanted to move the three years, 124 million dollars left on Paul's contract. Of course there was concern over lingering problems between Harden and Paul. Maybe they'd have worked through it, maybe not. Of course taking on an additional year and 47 million more guaranteed dollars entails risk. But right now Westbrook is clearly the better and more durable player. It will be fascinating to see how well (or not well) Westbrook and James Harden mesh. What they did together seven years ago (with Kevin Durant too!) when Harden was a 22 year old sixth man isn't particularly relevant now. As he did with Harden and Paul, Mike D'Antoni will stagger their minutes to have at least one on the floor at nearly all times. Yeah, well, how are things handled down the stretch of close games? Harden is the man, Westbrook is a lousy spot up shooter. So is the ball in Westbrook's hands with Harden spotting up? Hard to see a steady diet of that. When off the ball both guys generally play as statues. That needs to change.

Westbrook may be the most explosive inch for inch player we've ever seen. Absolutely Jordanesque-not as a player, but for sheer stunning athleticism Westbrook has been amazing to watch. He brings a one man transition game ability the Rockets haven't had in ages. The consistent force with which he plays is captivating, even when he lapses into out of control Russell mode. There has to be concern that slippage in his game began last season during which Westbrook turned 30. However it was a season in which he was still third team All-NBA.

While averaging a triple-double for a third consecutive season, Westbrook's shooting numbers were poor. His free throw shooting tumbled to an awful 66 percent. His mid-range make percentage was not good. Westbrook is literally one of the worst three point shooters in the 40 season NBA history of the shot. His 30.8% career number is woeful, and in four of the last five seasons Westbrook hasn't hit 30%. The only player to take within a 1000 3s of the 2995 Westbrook has jacked up, and make a feebler percentage of them: Charles Barkley. Westbrook has played 11 NBA seasons and not hit the league average percentage from three in any of them. The notion that he's suddenly going to become a marksman for the Rockets is silly. The idea that Westbrook will get better look threes? Come on. Defenses have loved Westbrook shooting threes for years.

In the end, I like the trade for the NOW of it. The Rockets have a title contending upside, and an it could crater downside. They could wind up forfeiting lottery picks (top four protected) in 2024 when Harden is ready to turn 34 and Westbrook approaching 36, and again in 2026. While Daryl Morey has probably gotten too loose with discarding first round picks (they haven't made one since 2015), are you really going to be hung up on the risks of five and seven years from now?

Buzzer beaters

1. Kyle Tucker should not be untouchable for a pitcher the Astros would control beyond this season. 2. By the advanced WAR (win above replacement) metric the Rangers have the two best AL pitchers this season. The Astros face Mike Minor Friday night and Lance Lynn Sunday. Justin Verlander ranks third as he starts opposite Minor 3. Best sports Halls of Fame to visit: Bronze-hockey, Toronto Silver-pro football, Canton Gold-baseball, Cooperstown


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