Houston rallies late, wins 118-113

3-pointers from Rockets versus Hornets

Tim Warner/Getty Images

The Houston Rockets kicked off the first half of a back to back Wednesday night on the road versus the Charlotte Hornets. For the second time this week Houston struggled against an opponent that on paper seemed like an easy victory. The Rockets trailed through most of the game until a late rally and clutch free throws from James Harden sealed their third straight victory. Houston is now 36-25, first in the Southwest Division and fifth in the Western Conference.

Goofy uniform, serious game

The Hornets sported their throwback striped jerseys in celebration of their 30th season, and Kemba Walker made them look good. The three time All Star was disinterested in allowing the Rockets an easy win on his court, exploding for 35 points, 4 assists, 4 rebounds, and 5 steals. This marks the second straight game where the Rockets have allowed an opponent to score 35 or more points.

Foul Trouble and Big Boards

Kenneth Faried and Clint Capela have been adjusting to sharing the floor since Capela's return from injury after the All-Star break. Wednesday night provided no such opportunity, as "The Manimal" picked up four quick fouls and was relegated to eight minutes for the night. Capela seized the opportunity and crashed the boards in the sort of fashion fans had become accustomed to prior to his injury. Capela finished the night 10-16 from the field with 23 points and 17 rebounds.

Working through some things

Despite the streak ending Monday, Harden was once again back into 30-point territory, finishing with 30 points even to close out the night. Once again, however, Harden's performance beyond the arc was abysmal. The reigning MVP has acknowledged that his neck is still bothering him since sitting out Saturday night against the Golden State Warriors, and after a 1-11 three-point output Harden has now shot 1-21 on the week. While a slump like this is obviously concerning, it's hard to ignore the fact that he still put up 30.

Rockets Player of the Game

Clint Capela: 23 points, 2 assists, 17 rebounds, 1 block

Hornets Player of the Game

Kemba Walker: 35 points, 4 assists, 4 rebounds, 5 steals

Up next:

The Rockets host the Miami Heat tonight at 7 p.m. 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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