Rockets rally late again, win 121-118

3-pointers from Rockets versus Heat

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The Houston Rockets put their resiliency on display Thursday night as they rallied for the second night in a row to spoil Dwyane Wade's final trip to the Toyota Center with the Miami Heat. Trailing by as much as 21 points in the third, the shorthanded Rockets squad buckled down on defense and let James Harden once again do James Harden things. The result was a come from behind victory, improving their winning streak to four games. The Rockets are now 37-25, remain first in the Southwest Division and fifth in the Western Conference.

Bombs away

In most close games against teams with worse records than the Rockets, it's good practice to seek out their three point percentage as the likely culprit. Usually poor shooting nights from beyond the arc are what allow worse teams to remain competitive, but on Thursday night that was simply not the case. Houston shot 41.6% from behind the line, nailing 19-46. Harden removed doubt that his shooting struggles were anything beyond a stiff neck, burying 8-18 threes after shooting just 1-21 earlier in the week.

Harden goes off

With Eric Gordon, Kenneth Faried, and Iman Shumpert all out with injuries, Harden saw the need for extra offense and brought just that. In a game that featured seven of the nine Heat players that saw minutes reaching double digits scoring figures, the Rockets remained true to their season long tactic of letting Harden tear teams aparts all by himself. Austin Rivers added 17, and Chris Paul and Gary Clark each added 14, but it was Harden's 58 point, 10 assist barrage that carried Houston past Miami Thursday night. It was his sixth 50-point performance of the season, a feat no other player has matched more than once in 2018-2019.

Rough sledding ahead

The Rockets will need to build on the momentum their current four game winning streak has created heading into next week. After a week of near misses against non playoff opponents, Houston faces a slate of matchups against far less forgiving competition next week. Houston travels to Boston to take on the Celtics Sunday afternoon, followed by an away contest against the Toronto Raptors and a home game with the Philadelphia 76ers.

Rockets Player of the Game

James Harden: 58 points, 10 assists, 7 rebounds, 4 steals

Heat Player of the Game

Dwyane Wade: It was his last game in Houston, c'mon.

Up next:

The Rockets take on the Celtics at Boston on Sunday at 2:30 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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