ON THE ROCKETS

3 reasons for the Rockets slow start and why they will turn it around

Jeff Bzdelik's sudden retirement has caused the Rockets to make adjustments. Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Tonight the Rockets will take on the Utah Jazz for the first time since ousting them from the playoffs in the second round last season. The Rockets’ chances of winning don't look great, and the possibility of falling to 1-3, maybe even 1-4, to start the season is a very real one. Patience, however, should be exercised before tossing this NBA season’s hopes into the nearest trash bin, as there are a number of correctable issues that have contributed to Houston's sluggish start.

1. Houston's assistant head coach retired a little over a month ago

Jeff Bzdelik is embodying the old adage of not knowing what you had until it's gone. Bzdelik was instrumental in Houston's rejuvenated effort on defense last season and retiring a month before the season started came as a huge blow. Now the Rockets are in catch up mode as the players and Bzdelik's replacement, Roy Rogers, look to play catch up and get up to speed. It's shown in the first three games, as Houston has failed to switched assignments as gracefully as they had last season, in addition to being absolutely pummelled inside the paint. This should simply be a practice and time issue that can be smoothed over. The question is whether it's fixed sooner rather than later.

2) New rosters need time to sync

Houston was forced into a lineup overhaul this offseason with the unexpected departures of forwards Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute. The result was the arrival of five new Rockets, with at least four of them slated for a legitimate share of minutes. A shake up of that size is bound to require a learning curve, and most team's have it figured out by December. That learning curve becomes even longer when my next point becomes an issue.

3) The Rockets are really banged up

The lineups you have seen head coach Mike D'Antoni trot out have been awful, yes. They also were never meant to be part of the plan. It was never the plan to have point guard Michael Carter-Williams start at small forward. No one honestly thinks that P.J. Tucker or Carmelo Anthony should or will continue to rotate in at center, but at the moment they will because they have to. All of these moves are out of necessity because the Rockets are incredibly beat up. Everyone paying attention to sports media at the moment is aware of Chris Paul's brawl-related suspension, but that will be over by Wednesday and barely scratches the surface of the issue.  At the moment, the entire Phoenix Suns trade return of Brandon Knight and Marquese Chriss are sidelined. Knight was a virtual lock for at least 10-15 minutes a game at point guard, but complications from knee rehab have pushed him back to an undisclosed timetable. Chriss meanwhile should return soon from an ankle injury and add relief to Clint Capela and the front court. Veteran center Nene has also been out with a calf injury. Add forward James Ennis III's injury sustained Sunday that will have him sitting a few games and what you end up with is a laughably thin rotation to start the series.

The point is, reinforcements are coming, so hold tight. Patience this season will more than likely be rewarded, but if the Rockets aren't careful they'll be stuck in the unenviable position of playing catch-up in a loaded Western Conference.

 

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McCullers Jr. had nine strikeouts over four

McCullers Jr. looks sharp in tune-up before Rangers overpower Houston's bullpen

Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Despite watching their chance to clinch their playoff spot on the field slip away in the walk-off loss on Friday, the Astros benefited from a loss by the Angels later in the night, securing their playoff berth. That meant they could play conservatively in the final two games of the season against the Rangers in Arlington. Here's a quick rundown of Saturday's matchup:

Final Score: Rangers 6, Astros 1.

Record: 29-30, second in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Jimmy Herget (1-0, 3.20 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Brandon Bielak (3-3, 6.75 ERA).

McCullers Jr. looks playoff-ready 

With nothing substantial to play for, the Astros did not expect to ask Lance McCullers Jr. to go deep into Saturday's game, instead giving him a few innings for a tune-up before assuming whatever role he would play in the post-season. He looked impressive, a promising sign after his injury stint and struggles on the road at points this season.

He finished four innings, during which he racked up a season-high nine strikeouts while giving up no runs on just two hits, both singles, and two walks. His final line: 4.0 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 9 K, 0 HR, 61 P.

Both teams trade runs as  they go to their bullpens

Meanwhile, neither team was getting much going at the plate in the early goings, keeping it a scoreless game through the first five. Brandon Bielak took over for McCullers Jr. starting in the fifth but would allow the first run of the night in the bottom of the sixth as the Rangers would get three singles to take a 1-0 lead.

After Kyle Gibson held the Astros at bay for six innings, Houston would get on the board against Texas' bullpen, getting a leadoff double by Aledmyz Diaz in the top of the seventh. Diaz moved to third on a sac bunt, then scored on a sac fly by Jack Mayfield, making it 1-1.

Rangers blow it open in the seventh

The tie didn't last long, as Bielak would put two on base in the bottom of the seventh before giving up a three-run homer to make it a 4-1 Rangers lead. Andre Scrubb was next out of Houston's bullpen and allowed a solo home run on his first pitch. Scrubb would complete the inning, but not before allowing another run on three singles to push Texas' lead to 6-1.

Cy Sneed was next out of Houston's bullpen for the bottom of the eighth and tossed a scoreless frame with two strikeouts. Houston would not make the unlikely comeback in the top of the ninth, with the Rangers taking the game 6-1.

Up Next: The last game of the Astros' 2020 regular season will be Sunday at 2:05 PM Central, as are most other games on the MLB slate on the league's final regular-season day. Houston's starter is TBD as they will continue to preserve their arms for the best-of-three first round that starts on Tuesday, while Texas will send Jordan Lyles (1-6, 7.08 ERA) to the mound.

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